Radioactive waste: constant attention to responsible management
Like every other industrial activity, nuclear power plants generate waste. Some of this waste – the part generated by power plant operation, spent fuel recycling and decommissioning of power plants that have been permanently shut down – is radioactive. EDF takes on the responsibility for managing it in such a way as to ensure that it does not come into contact with people or the environment.
Limited at source, carefully sorted and processed prior to conditioning
Nuclear power plant operation, maintenance and decommissioning produces a wide variety of radioactive waste:
90% of the waste is made up of filters, resins, valves, vinyl and fabric that has low level radioactivity and limited half life
Waste from spent fuel processing accounts for most of the remaining 10%. This highly radioactive waste has a half life that can reach several tens of thousands of years.
EDF first strives to limit the amount of waste generated. Major strides have been made in power plant design and operation to achieve this.
By way of comparison, annual per capita radioactive waste generated in France is now 1 kg (of which 11 grams high-level waste), compared with 2,500 kg of industrial waste (of which 100 kg of toxic waste).
All waste is painstakingly sorted by radioactivity level and type. Whenever possible, waste is processed by means of:
Compaction of standard operating waste (textiles, vinyls, etc.)
Incineration of liquid and solid waste at the CENTRACO plant operated by EDF subsidiary SOCODEI
Melting of metal waste and production of ingots at the CENTRACO plant
Compaction of metal waste from spent fuel processing
Vitrification of other waste generated by this operation
Following processing, the remaining waste is placed in sealed containers in preparation for storage. The containers are specially adapted to the nature of the waste and the associated hazards (drums, metal boxes, concrete containers, stainless steel containers, etc.). This ensures that the radioactivity contained in the waste does not come into contact with people or the environment.
Since 1985, EDF has reduced the volume of radioactive waste produced in its nuclear power plants by two-thirds
Storage solution for each type of waste
In France, radioactive waste management is stringently regulated by the Law of 28 June 2006. Waste producers (including EDF) are technically and financially responsible for their waste. The French national radioactive waste management agency (Andra) designs, builds and operates the required storage centres.
The 90% of least radioactive waste is sealed in drums, metal boxes or concrete containers. Final storage is handled at three Andra centres located in the Manche and Aube departments.
The 10% of most radioactive waste is currently conditioned in stainless steel containers and placed in intermediate storage at AREVA’s La Hague plant. Given its half life of up to several tens of thousands of years, the law provides for the containers’ transfer to a deep geological disposal facility (Cigéo). Being built at the boundary of the Meuse and Haute Marne departments, Cigéo is expected to open in 2025. Waste will be stored in cells excavated at a depth of 500 metres in a stable geological environment surrounded by impermeable argillaceous rock. Another repository is currently being designed to store power plant decommissioning waste.
In the UK, where legislation is different, EDF Energy works with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which is responsible for waste storage. Low and intermediate level waste is retained in dedicated facilities within the power plants and ultimately compacted, incinerated or recycled.
High-level waste is currently vitrified and placed in intermediate storage at the Sellafield reprocessing plant. The British government took a decision in 2006 to ultimately store it in deep geological repositories.