The disaster at the Fukushima plant in Japan has made the public very sensitive about all questions related to nuclear safety and one issue that has been debated for decades is what to do with radioactive waste. A report by Romana Jordan Cizelj on the management of spent fuel and radioactive waste, says the "polluter pays" principle should apply. The Slovenian EPP member's draft report was discussed in the Energy Committee Monday. She told us more.
Do you see any risks in the way we deal with radioactive waste and spent fuel?
The main risk regarding nuclear waste in Europe is the societal risk. I would call it the risk of responsibility. In Europe we mostly deal with the disposal of low- and medium-level waste, but not high-level radioactive waste. I don't think this is responsible, especially because we do have technical solutions for this.
High-level radioactive waste is stored in facilities that are not a final, but only an intermediate solution. Spent fuel is usually stored next to the reactors. So it is safely stored, but the safety level would be much higher with final disposal. To have as high as possible safety standards for final disposal is at the core of our responsibility to the public.
It seems there is no real solution for the long-term storage of radioactive waste. What are the main safety standards you are suggesting?
It is true that we don't have any final disposal of high-level radioactive waste, although. Finland and France are close to a final solution. I think it is appropriate that we are talking about common European legislation, which will force member states to really act. The main characteristics of standards, I would say, are the use of state of the art technology, a strong and independent regulatory body and appropriate human and financial resources.
Of course, the directive contains many more aspects. We also have to ensure public confidence and trust not only in the professionals but also in politicians. That's why the directive also includes transparency and public participation.
Who should pay for the management of spent fuel and radioactive waste?
I am a supporter of the general European "polluter pays" principle. We must use this principle in this case. I am proposing an amendment that goes beyond that: the assessment of costs, monitoring and reviews, regular reporting to the Commission and the involvement of national parliaments.
How can we ensure that higher standards in the EU don't mean the waste is exported to third countries?
The Commission is proposing that we prohibit exports of nuclear waste. That's one possibility. A second is that exports are only possible to countries that have the same safety standards as the EU. A third option, and we should do this anyway, is that we try to introduce higher safety standards at an international level, especially in the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency.