Waste and disposal
What about waste that can no longer be reduced or recovered?
Categories of radioactive waste
What waste is this?
Low and medium-level short-lived waste comes mainly from maintenance in nuclear power plants, industry, medicine and scientific research.
Where does the waste need to go?
It will be safely stored above ground without any risk to the public health of current and future generations. This surface disposal site will be implemented in the municipality of Dessel. In the meantime, the waste drums are stored in special buildings at Belgoprocess.
What waste is this?
Highly radioactive and/or long-lived waste comes mainly from the fuel used in nuclear power plants and from the decommissioning of nuclear facilities.
Where does this need to go?
International research shows that geological disposal is the safest and most responsible solution for this type of waste. SCK CEN is a pioneer in the research into storing this waste in deep clay layers. A significant part of that research is done in the underground laboratory HADES.
💡 Want to know more about the origin of radioactive waste? Continue reading on this page.
Three solutions for radioactive waste
Every type of radioactive waste requires a specific solution. The Belgian Agency for Radioactive Waste and Enriched Fissile Materials (NIRAS/ONDRAF) is responsible for the short- and long-term management of all radioactive waste. SCK CEN is closely involved in the scientific substantiation of safety files. The key question is: how can we protect people and the environment against the harmful effects of radiation?
Low- and medium-level short-lived waste mainly originates from industrial activities, medicine and scientific research. It can be safely disposed above-ground without risks for the public health of present and future generations. A new surface disposal site is currently being built. Awaiting its completion, the waste barrels are temporarily stored in special buildings.
Highly radioactive and/or long-lived waste mainly originates from fissile material in nuclear power plants and from the dismantling of nuclear installations. International research has shown that geological disposal is the best solution for this type of waste. SCK CEN is a pioneer in the research into the disposal of waste in deep clay layers. Today, it is testing the different options in cooperation with NIRAS/ONDRAF and other Belgian partners.
Highly radioactive waste comes mainly from spent nuclear fuels used in the production of nuclear energy. Geological disposal is the safest and most justified final destination for this type of waste. SCK CEN is studying scenarios for reducing the risks, footprint and cost of geological disposal in order to reduce the impact on future generations. Geological disposal remains necessary, but radiochemical process technologies such as advanced separation (also called partitioning) can separate the various chemical elements present in the spent nuclear fuels into separate fractions. Each fraction can then be treated in a more targeted and efficient way.
Advanced separation: how exactly does it work?
Advanced separation can be carried out by aqueous processes, in which the desired chemical elements are transferred from the aqueous phase to an immiscible organic phase. For this purpose, specific organic molecules are designed and synthesized that only bind to the desired elements.
An alternative is electrochemical separation performed in high-temperature molten salts. In this process, the desired elements are selectively deposited on one of the electrodes. A major advantage of this method is the radiation resistance of the salt, allowing spent nuclear fuels to be processed much faster.
Some of these fractions can be converted into less radiotoxic short-lived substances by transmutation. With MYRRHA, SCK CEN is leading the field in research into this promising technique.
Disposal operations beyond HADES
The underground laboratory HADES is an important pillar in the 'Waste and disposal’ research of SCK CEN but there is more. SCK CEN also studies other aspects that could improve waste management and make it safer. The research centre studies a great variety of issues.
- Which techniques can be used to improve the treatment and conditioning of radioactive waste?
- How do the different types of material such as clay, glass, concrete and mortar react in the short and very long term?
- How can we characterise radioactive waste?
- Which radioactive products can spread in a disposal site?
The researchers enter these insights into computer models that are used to support the performance and safety analyses of NIRAS.