Agenda 21 - Full Text

Agenda 21 | Chapter 22 - Safe and Environmentally Sound Management of Radioactive Wastes


Promoting the safe and environmentally sound management of radioactive wastes

Basis for action

22.1. Radioactive wastes are generated in the nuclear fuel cycle as well as in nuclear applications (the use of radionuclides in medicine, research and industry). The radiological and safety risk from radioactive wastes varies from very low in short-lived, low-level wastes up to very large for high-level wastes. Annually about 200,000 m3 of low-level and intermediate-level waste and 10,000 m3 of high-level waste (as well as spent nuclear fuel destined for final disposal) is generated world wide from nuclear power production. These volumes are increasing as more nuclear power units are taken into operation, nuclear facilities are decommissioned and the use of radionuclides increases. The high-level waste contains about 99 per cent of the radionuclides and thus represents the largest radiological risk. The waste volumes from nuclear applications are generally much smaller, typically some tens of cubic metres or less per year and country. However, the activity concentration, especially in sealed radiation sources, might be high, thus justifying very stringent radiological protection measures. The growth of waste volumes should continue to be kept under close review.

22.2. The safe and environmentally sound management of radioactive wastes, including their minimization, transportation and disposal, is important, given their characteristics. In most countries with a substantial nuclear power programme, technical and administrative measures have been taken to implement a waste management system. In many other countries still only in preparation for a national nuclear programme or having only nuclear applications, such systems are still needed.


22.3. The objective of this programme area is to ensure that radioactive wastes are safely managed, transported, stored and disposed of, with a view to protecting human health and the environment, within a wider framework of an interactive and integrated approach to radioactive waste management and safety.


A) Management-related activities

22.4. States, in cooperation with relevant international organizations, where appropriate, should:

(a)  Promote policies and practical measures to minimize and limit, where appropriate, the generation of radioactive wastes and provide for their safe processing, conditioning, transportation and disposal; (b)  Support efforts within IAEA to develop and promulgate radioactive waste safety standards or guidelines and codes of practice as an internationally accepted basis for the safe and environmentally sound management and disposal of radioactive wastes;

(c)  Promote safe storage, transportation and disposal of radioactive wastes, as well as spent radiation sources and spent fuel from nuclear reactors destined for final disposal, in all countries, in particular in developing countries, by facilitating the transfer of relevant technologies to those countries and/or the return to the supplier of radiation sources after their use, in accordance with relevant international regulations or guidelines;

(d)  Promote proper planning, including environmental impact assessment where appropriate, of safe and environmentally sound management of radioactive waste, including emergency procedures, storage, transportation and disposal, prior to and after activities that generate such waste.

B) International and regional cooperation and coordination

22.5. States, in cooperation with relevant international organizations, where appropriate, should:

(a)  Strengthen their efforts to implement the Code of Practice on the Transboundary Movements of Radioactive Waste and, under the auspices of IAEA, in cooperation with relevant international organizations dealing with different modes of transport, keep the question of such movements under active review, including the desirability of concluding a legally binding instrument; (b)  Encourage the London Dumping Convention to expedite work to complete studies on replacing the current voluntary moratorium on disposal of low-level radioactive wastes at sea by a ban, taking into account the precautionary approach, with a view to taking a well informed and timely decision on the issue;

(c)  Not promote or allow the storage or disposal of high-level, intermediate-level and low-level radioactive wastes near the marine environment unless they determine that scientific evidence, consistent with the applicable internationally agreed principles and guidelines, shows that such storage or disposal poses no unacceptable risk to people and the marine environment or does not interfere with other legitimate uses of the sea, making, in the process of consideration, appropriate use of the concept of the precautionary approach;

(d)  Not export radioactive wastes to countries that, individually or through international agreements, prohibit the import of such wastes, such as the contracting parties to the Bamako Convention on the Ban of the Import into Africa and the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes within Africa, the fourth Lom Convention or other relevant conventions, where such prohibition is provided for;

(e)  Respect, in accordance with international law, the decisions, as far as applicable to them, taken by parties to other relevant regional environmental conventions dealing with other aspects of safe and environmentally sound management of radioactive wastes.

Means of implementation

A) Financing and cost evaluation

22.6. The costs at the national level of managing and disposing of radioactive wastes are considerable and will vary, depending on the technology used for disposal.

22.7. The Conference secretariat has estimated the average total annual cost (1993-2000) to international organizations to implement the activities of this programme to be about $8 million. Actual costs and financial terms, including any that are non-concessional, will depend upon, inter alia, the specific strategies and programmes Governments decide upon for implementation.

B) Scientific and technological means

22.8. States, in cooperation with international organizations, where appropriate, should:

(a)  Promote research and development of methods for the safe and environmentally sound treatment, processing and disposal, including deep geological disposal, of high-level radioactive waste; (b)  Conduct research and assessment programmes concerned with evaluating the health and environmental impact of radioactive waste disposal.

C) Capacity-building, including human resource development

22.9. States, in cooperation with relevant international organizations, should provide, as appropriate, assistance to developing countries to establish and/or strengthen radioactive waste management infrastructures, including legislation, organizations, trained manpower and facilities for the handling, processing, storage and disposal of wastes generated from nuclear applications.



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