Ground storage facility for spent fuel and vaalputs public safety information forum activities

For Immediate Release – Vaalputs community.

The National Radioactive Waste Disposal Institute (NRWDI) is a statutory body established in terms of Section 3 of the National Radioactive Waste Disposal Institute Act, 2008 (Act No. 53 of 2008) (NRWDIA), with a mandate to manage radioactive waste disposal on a national basis.

One of the key functions of NRWDI is to investigate the need for any new radioactive waste disposal facilities and site, design and construct such new facilities as may be required. Currently NRWDI is investigating the establishment of an off-site above ground storage facility for spent fuel (also known as Centralised Interim Storage Facility (“CISF”), as informed by the Radioactive Waste Management Policy and Strategy for the Republic of South Africa of 2005.

In order to establish any new disposal and related storage facility, NRWDI is obliged to comply with all the applicable legislative and regulatory requirements. This includes, but is not limited to obtaining an Environmental Authorisation from the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment, as well as a Nuclear Installation Licence from the National Nuclear Regulator.

“We are mindful of the importance of public consultation in this process and would therefore like to assure all stakeholders that NWRDI will comply with all the requirements of the NNR and NEMA Acts, in terms of public participation,” stated Dr Margaret Mkhosi, CEO of NWRDI.

The regulation that governs the Public Safety Information Forum (“PSIF”) clearly states that the holder of a nuclear installation licence (Necsa is currently the Licence Holder of Vaalputs) must provide on a quarterly basis information to persons living in the relevant municipal area (in the instance of Vaalputs, within the Kamiesberg Municipality), in respect of which an emergency plan has been established on nuclear and radiation safety matters, including but not limited to nuclear incidents and accidents. The PSIF meetings are also attended by persons living in the Richtersveld Municipality and the Nama Khoi Municipality, and any member of the public.

The physical in-person Vaalputs Public Safety Information Forum (VPSIF) meetings have been cancelled by the current Licence Holder for the past two years, as a safety precautionary measure in the interest of the public and the communities in the area, in lieu of the potential spread of the COVID virus.

The option of conducting virtual VPSIF meetings was explored, but due to the remoteness and the limited or non-existent Wi-Fi connectivity in the area, this option was not deemed feasible and viable, as many of the communities surrounding Vaalputs would not be able to participate in such virtual VPSIF meetings. Thus, the diversity and inclusivity of stakeholders would have been severely compromised and furthermore, putting an undue financial burden on stakeholders that would normally attend the physical in-person PSIF meetings.

Notwithstanding the cancellation of the physical in-person PSIF meetings, NRWDI (as future Nuclear Installation Licence Holder for Vaalputs) has acted in the spirit of the PSIF regulation, by providing on a quarterly basis, information with regard to nuclear and radiation safety to our stakeholders.

“NRWDI remains committed to deliver technically sound, socially acceptable, environmentally responsible, economically feasible, sustainable and publicly acceptable solutions for the long-term management and disposal of all radioactive waste classes on a national basis. This will be done in a safe and secure manner that protects people and the environment” emphasized Dr Mkhosi.

Official Media Statement

Enhancing Cooperation on Spent Fuel and High Level Waste Management

A better understanding of how international cooperation could enhance the management of spent nuclear fuel and high level radioactive waste — the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle — was the focus of a forum held at the IAEA last week. About 50 participants from 25 Member States analysed drivers for cooperation, identified impediments and discussed approaches to overcome them.

“Innovations in the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle can significantly contribute to the growth of nuclear power,” said Mikhail Chudakov, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy.

“Using innovative fuels and fuel cycles can help nuclear energy systems become more sustainable,” said Chudakov, who is also the Project Manager for the International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles (INPRO). “This is important both for technical reasons and for enhancing public acceptance.

More than 50 countries have spent nuclear fuel stored in temporary sites awaiting reprocessing or disposal, with 80% of the world inventory of spent nuclear fuel stored in the United States and in Western Europe.

A few countries have made good progress towards nearer term implementation of deep geological disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high level waste, in particular Finland, France and Sweden. Several other countries have longer term plans. But not all countries have appropriate geology to dispose of spent fuel and high level waste deep underground, so international cooperation is key. In addition, for many countries with small nuclear power programmes, the costs of such facilities can be prohibitive. Moreover, current national experiences indicate that the time frame from conduct of necessary research and development to commissioning a geological repository is roughly 30 to 40 years.

Many participants of the 10th INPRO Dialogue Forum agreed that enhanced international cooperation on the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle could bring considerable advantages in terms of safety, security, non-proliferation, environmental protection and economics – all key elements to achieving globally sustainable development of nuclear energy.

Drivers for cooperation


Multinational and multilateral cooperation on the back end of the fuel cycle could mobilize more resources and reduce the time and costs involved in developing fuel cycle infrastructure, including geologic repositories, participants agreed.

In a broad multilateral approach, newcomer countries could receive necessary assistance including information, knowledge, financing, human resource development, nuclear infrastructure development, and a feasible technical solution for managing and disposing of spent fuel and high level waste.

Challenges ahead

The Forum also discussed legal, institutional and financial impediments to cooperative approaches in the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. Diverse legal and regulatory requirements exist in different countries, the legal status of spent fuel differs, some countries considering it a waste while others a fuel resource. Some countries lack the necessary institutional infrastructure and many face political and public opposition to permanent disposal of nuclear waste generated in other countries.

To address these, participants proposed cooperation in various areas, including increased government support, human resources development, capacity building in necessary research and development, and technology transfer.

Some participants proposed that nuclear technology vendor countries should make greater efforts to develop credible, safe, secure and sustainable back end service offerings up to and including disposal of spent fuel and high level waste – so that complete cradle-to-grave fuel cycle services are realized more broadly.

The INPRO Dialogue Forum on Cooperative Approaches to the Back End of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Drivers and Legal, Institutional and Financial Impediments was held at the IAEA from 26 to 29 May 2015. This was the tenth in a series of Dialogue Forums organized by the IAEA since 2010. INPRO Dialogue Forums are an opportunity for technology holders, users and other stakeholders to share information, perspectives and knowledge on issues relevant to global nuclear energy sustainability, long term nuclear energy strategies and the role of nuclear technology innovations.

Strengthening Nuclear Law in Africa: Workshop on the Way Forward

Legal and regulatory experts from 20 African countries expanded their knowledge on international and national legal frameworks for the regulation of radiation sources in medicine, industry, research and other areas, at a workshop at the IAEA this week.

“The exchange of experiences has been very timely and valuable in understanding the legal aspects arising from the use of ionizing radiation as we develop new projects in implementing nuclear techniques,” said Vuyile Dlamini from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Swaziland.

Through the legislative assistance programme the IAEA supports its Member States in developing adequate legal frameworks for the safe, secure and peaceful uses of nuclear energy and ionizing radiation. It also aims to create awareness in Member States about the importance of adhering to the international legal instruments and assist then in complying with their international obligations. 

“Our country has already enacted a law on safety, security and safeguards,” said Hadjaro Senoussi of the Chadian Agency of Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety. “The IAEA’s assistance was helpful to identify all the elements to be considered in a comprehensive nuclear law.”

The workshop helped get a broader understanding of international instruments in the nuclear field, said Faradally Ollite, CEO of the Radiation Protection Authority of Mauritius. “The relevance for Mauritius to adhere to those instruments has been clarified,” he said. “We now have a better understanding on how to transpose  these international instruments in our national legislative framework.”

The Regional Workshop on Nuclear Law for African Member States allowed the IAEA and representatives from African countries to assess the status of national legal frameworks, as well as to discuss and coordinate the activities to be implemented to support them in establishing, updating and improving national legislation governing the safe and secure uses of nuclear energy and ionizing radiation. It also allowed to identify steps towards gaining better understanding of the international legal instruments adopted under the auspices of the IAEA.

Participants included experts from Benin, Botswana, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Togo and Zimbabwe.

The training follows other regional workshops conducted for Member States in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean and Asia and the Pacific, as part of IAEA’s legislative assistance programme. 


Building a Home for Radioactive Waste in the Dominican Republic

Sierra Prieta, Dominican Republic — While the Dominican Republic generates a relatively low volume of radioactive waste, it has prioritized their safe and secure treatment.

Radioactive sources are used in fields such as medicine, industry and mining. Once they have served their purpose, such so-called disused sources must be safely and securely stored or disposed of because they may pose hazards to public safety, the environment and to national security. Protecting the public and making sure that radioactive material does not fall into the hands of criminals are, therefore, a priority for the government, said Vice-minister of Energy and Mines María de los Ángeles Peña.

Any disused radioactive source identified in the country is transported, characterized, classified, conditioned and stored in a centralized facility built in 2010 in Sierra Prieta, outside the capital Santo Domingo. The amount of time the sources are kept in this safe and secure storage can range from a few years to up to 50 years, depending on their level of activity and the period for which they remain radioactive.

“All radioactive sources that are no longer usable end up in the storage facility,” Ángeles Peña said. “We do this to ensure not only nuclear safety, but also nuclear security, which we take very seriously.”

The facility is vigorously protected with fences and guards and constantly monitored with cameras. An armed military guard is present round the clock. The facility is equipped with radiation detectors provided by the IAEA. A team of professional staff trained under IAEA technical cooperation projects is in charge of the operation, maintenance and regular inspection of the storage facility.

Around 170 sources from applications in hospitals and industry as well as so-called orphan sources — radioactive sources that are lost and then found again — detected in scrap metal industries have found a home in the facility. Some are high-activity sources, meaning they emit high levels of radiation, such as those used in radiotherapy to treat cancer. Others are low-activity sources, such as those used for industrial and research applications.

“Radiotherapy can do wonderful things,” said Luis Morilla, the engineer responsible for the operations of the storage facility. “If you look at brachytherapy, for example, you see how well it can treat cervical cancer. But after a while, once these sources are no longer usable, hospitals need to dispose of them. And nobody wants to keep them; nobody wants anything to do with waste.”

Other disused sources come from mining, agriculture and construction. Gold processors, for example, use radiotracers — chemical compounds containing radioisotopes that emit radiation — to study flow patterns. Since the Dominican Republic has the biggest gold mines in Latin America and the Caribbean, many sources come from this industry.

Spreading the word

The work of the staff at the facility goes beyond storing disused sources, Morilla added. “The key here is that we’ve established a network of professionals all around the country and across multiple disciplines,” he said, to spread the knowledge about the importance of handling radioactive material safely and securely.

In 2013, the National Energy Commission established a network for the safe and secure transport of radioactive materials. As a result, professionals from all relevant disciplines regularly meet to exchange information.

The network connects government officials, police and customs officers, emergency preparedness and response professionals, nuclear regulators, transport officials and port and airport staff. Its aim is to prepare all relevant stakeholders to respond to an emergency. Under the network, the National Energy Commission coordinates training courses in nuclear safety and security and organizes emergency preparedness and response exercises.

“The idea is to apply the safety standards and security guidance we learn from the IAEA to all areas in which radioactive sources are used across the country, even before disposal,” Ángeles Peña said. In the past two years, they have trained more than 30 experts in nuclear technology, safety and security through IAEA expert missions and fellowships, she added.

In line with the radioactive waste management national strategy, Dominican authorities don’t expect to store large volumes of sources in the future. “Our first option is to give radioactive sources back to those who provided them,” Morilla said. “But some sources cannot be repatriated. We have historical sources and donated sources, for example, that we just can’t give back.”

Dumping of Radioactive Materials at Sea

Although the practice of dumping radioactive waste into the oceans disappeared in the early 1990s, materials containing minimal levels of radioactivity are still allowed and regulated. Rules for dumping this type of materials into the oceans have become stricter following the adoption of an IAEA methodology aimed at protecting not only humans, but also the marine environment.

In a meeting held from 12 to 16 October in London, representatives of 87 countries agreed to set more specific thresholds on materials for dumping at sea. The venue was the 37th annual gathering of countries which are parties to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, also known as the London Convention.


IAEA Impact: Increasing Safety in Radioactive Waste Management

Although the practice of dumping radioactive waste into the oceans disappeared in the early 1990s, materials containing minimal levels of radioactivity are still allowed and regulated. Rules for dumping this type of materials into the oceans have become stricter following the adoption of an IAEA methodology aimed at protecting not only humans, but also the marine environment.

In a meeting held from 12 to 16 October in London, representatives of 87 countries agreed to set more specific thresholds on materials for dumping at sea. The venue was the 37th annual gathering of countries which are parties to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, also known as the London Convention.

“This recently updated methodology includes a radiological procedure used to ensure not only the protection of humans, as in the past, but also the explicit protection of marine flora and fauna,” said Diego Telleria, Radiation Protection Specialist at the IAEA.

As described in the IAEA’s January 2015 publication, the concept, called de minimis, only allows dumping at sea of materials that are non-radioactive or cause such negligible impact to humans and marine organisms that it is of no regulatory concern.

To define the thresholds, IAEA experts used a dose that all marine organisms can tolerate, said Telleria. To do this, they considered three marine reference animals and plants which are the most prone to be exposed to radiation —flatfish, crab and brown seaweed— and established the maximum acceptable concentration of radioactivity based on these species’ level of tolerance.

The 2003 guidelines on the application of de minimis, published by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), will be updated to incorporate this new methodology. The actual thresholds will not change as a result of the update to the regulations, as the calculations revealed that the limits set for humans had also in effect already protected the environment. “At the request of parties to the Convention and addressing the concerns of environmental groups, the protection of flora and fauna has now been made explicit,” Telleria said.

Inventory of Radioactive Waste Dumping

The IAEA has acted as the technical advisor on radioactive matters to the Convention for more than 40 years. This month, it published a comprehensive inventory of human-made radioactive sources entering the ocean since 1946.

Developed by the IAEA in cooperation with the IMO, the ‘Inventory of Radioactive Material Resulting from Historical Dumping Accidents and Losses at Sea’ compiles past waste dumping, accidents and losses at sea involving radioactive material recorded since the 1940s and 1950s up until 2015.

The inventory will serve as the official record for the London Convention and help scientists to evaluate the impact of radionuclide sources in the marine environment anywhere in the world, Telleria said.  

The IAEA periodically gathers information from its Member States to track the amount of radioactive materials that have entered the world’s oceans and seas and assesses their loss of radiation, or radioactive decay, over time.