ASN issues its opinion on the management of very low level waste
At the request of the Minister responsible for energy, and contributing to the guidelines for the 5th issue of the French National Radioactive Material and Waste Management Plan (PNGMDR), ASN has issued its opinion on the management of very low level waste (VLLW).
Very low-level waste (VLLW) comes essentially from the operation, maintenance and decommissioning of nuclear facilities. It consists mainly of inert waste (soil and rubble) and metal waste. Cires (Industrial centre for grouping, storage and disposal), operated by Andra (the French Radioactive Waste Management Agency) in the Aube département, is currently the only definitive management solution for this type of waste. The existing disposal facilities should be filled to capacity by around 2028.
Faced with the large volumes of VLLW to come over the next few decades, the PNGMDR 2016-2018 asked that studies be conducted on the forward-looking production estimates, the experience feedback from waste zoning, the recycling of certain types of VLLW, the densification, and the optimisation or diversification of disposal solutions.
The public debate held in 2019 in preparation for the 5th issue of the PNGMDR confirmed the need to develop new VLLW management solutions. At the end of this debate, it was decided to continue the work to find additional disposal capacities by identifying a second disposal centre and analysing the benefits and drawbacks of decentralised disposal solutions situated near the waste producing sites. The Ministry for Ecological Transition and ASN also consider, in the light of the arguments put forward during the public debate, that regulatory changes could be studied to allow, on a case-by-case basis, the recycling of VLLW radioactive metal waste after melting and decontamination.
Consistently with these approaches, and after analysing the studies submitted to it, ASN calls for the work initiated in the PNGMDR 2016-2018 to be continued and extended with the aim of improving the current management methods and developing complementary management solutions, which remain to be devised and implemented.
ASN notes in particular that the management of VLLW shall, in the main, continue to be based on the place of origin of the waste to guarantee its traceability, by means of specific routes, from production to disposal. It considers that there is substantial room for optimising waste management and this must be used in full.
The recycling of certain types of waste which will be produced in large volumes is encouraged, consistently with the waste management hierarchy defined in the Environment Code. ASN recommends in particular the operational implementation of a rubble recycling route, and continuation of the metals recycling facility project, with the setting up of a specific oversight framework for this facility.
Furthermore, ASN considers it necessary for all the stakeholders, particularly the representatives of the regions concerned or likely to be concerned, to be more closely involved in the defining of the VLLW management solutions.
Lastly, as saturation of the current disposal capacities for VLLW could restrict the entire route and delay the decommissioning projects, ASN considers that solutions must be put forward to cater for the situation where a new centralised disposal facility is not available. It recommends that the studies for putting in place additional disposal facilities, whether centralised or decentralised, be continued and that the government should clarify Andra's responsibility in this respect.
To find more
- ASN Opinion 2020-AV-0356 of 30 June 2020 on the studies concerning the management of very low level waste (VLLW) submitted in application of the PNGMDR 2016-2018, in view of preparation of the 5th PNGMDR (in french only)
- Visit the website of the National Public Debates Commission on the PNGMDR (in French)
- PNGMDR 2016-2018 - This issue of the PNGMDR underwent, for the first time, an environmental assessment, thereby providing an integrated view of the issues associated with the management of radioactive materials and waste