WENRA’s Working Group on Waste & Decommissioning (WGWD) was established in 2002 and addresses the regulatory aspects relating to radioactive waste, spent fuel and decommissioning matters. Unlike the regulatory situation with respect to the operation of nuclear reactors, the management of radioactive waste usually involves several licence holders, locations and facilities at different steps of the waste management process.
WGWD has developed four sets of Safety Reference Levels (SRLs), which reflect expected practices in four thematic areas agreed by the regulatory authorities to be implemented in the WENRA member states. The four thematic areas are:
- Storage of radioactive waste and spent fuel
- Disposal of radioactive waste
- Processing of radioactive waste
Across all four WGWD thematic areas there are 302 separate SRLs, for which 240 relate to the processing, storage and disposal of radioactive waste and 62 relate to decommissioning. WGWD’s SRLs are applicable to a wide range of facilities, regardless of the main purpose of the facility in question. Some of them address specific facilities, like the disposal report; others are primarily activity-oriented, like the processing report.
An explanatory report on the interrelations between the four reports was published in 2017. This publication (“Umbrella Document: Interfaces and Interdependencies”) highlights the connections between the four WGWD thematic reports by summarizing their content against the background of a comprehensive radioactive waste management programme. Interfaces and interdependencies between the reports – in particular those that are not covered by the SRLs – are considered, and guidance is offered by referring to internationally accepted requirements and recommendations, e.g. the Safety Standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The process of each member organisation assessing compliance with the SRLs follows a two-steps benchmarking methodology. In the first step all members perform a self-assessment of their national regulatory system against the SRLs. Across all WENRA Working Groups, three scores are used uniformly in the benchmarking of SRLs: A, B and C.
- An ‘A’ rating means that the requirement is covered explicitly by the national regulatory system: no action is required.
- A ‘B’ rating means that a difference exists but can be justified from a safety point of view: no action is required.
- A ‘C’ rating means that a difference exists and should be addressed in the national action plan for harmonisation purposes.
For the self-assessment, each member justifies the proposed rating by quoting the relevant text sections from the corresponding national regulation in an evaluation table. In the second step of the benchmarking, the self-assessment is reviewed by other members and the results are ratified by the plenary of all WGWD member states. In this open and transparent process, WGWD scrutinises rigorously the evidence presented. Where necessary members then develop national action plans (NAPs) to harmonise their national regulations with WENRA SRLs. The results of such exercises are included in dedicated reports which are available as follows.
The Waste and Spent Fuel Storage Report (v2.2) was finalised in April 2014. This report includes a complete list of the changes enacted in the national regulations of WENRA members and shows the results of the SRL benchmarking for each country at that time. In the case of the Storage Report, member states underwent an additional implementation benchmarking for various type of purpose built storage facilities for radioactive waste and/or spent fuel which results are also presented in the report.
Decommissioning of nuclear installations
The Decommissioning Safety Reference Levels Report (v2.2) was finalised in April 2015. The report includes a complete list of the changes enacted in the national regulations of the WENRA members and shows the results of the SRL benchmarking for each country at that time.
Radioactive waste disposal facilities
The report on “Radioactive Waste Disposal Facilities Safety Reference Levels” was published on the WENRA website in December 2014, defining a set of 108 SRL applicable to waste disposal regulations.
Radioactive waste treatment and conditioning Safety Reference Levels
The WGWD waste processing report is the basis for the individual self-assessments of national regulatory systems and the subsequent benchmarking procedure within WGWD. This aims to result in national action plans for inclusion of missing safety reference levels into the respective national regulatory systems. The documentation of this process will be included in the next report.
Participation in IAEA Radioactive Waste Management Conference, November 2021
In November 2021, the WGWD participated in the International Conference on Radioactive Waste Management and presented an abstract entitled WENRA’s Safety Reference Levels contribute to continuous improvements and harmonisation of regulatory approaches for radioactive waste management in many European countries.
Since 2002, when WENRA WGWD was established, clear benefits of the harmonisation process have become obvious in all involved member states. WGWD has identified and approved minimum common standards of safety across all member states based on SRLs derived from the IAEA Safety Standards as a baseline, and from the experiences and practices of WGWD countries regulating radioactive waste management and decommissioning activities. In this way WGWD has promoted changes and improvements in member states’ regulations against the backdrop of national priorities and existing legal frameworks.
As part of WGWD’s self-assessment and benchmarking activities, the regulatory bodies of member countries have identified overlaps, inconsistencies and complementarities in their national legal frameworks. The harmonisation process is not finished yet, but many member states have already reached a very good degree of harmonisation with the SRLs for radioactive waste management and decommissioning.
WGWD also provides an excellent opportunity for regulators to learn informally from the experience of other member states, whether they have similar or different legal frameworks.