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26th May 2022

Brussels against exporting nuclear waste outside EU

  • France is one of the biggest nuclear waste producers in the EU (Photo: Stefan Kühn)

Brussels is against member states exporting their nuclear waste to countries outside the EU or to store it in joint sites, energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger said, as the commission is working on a set of common safety standards for this dangerous material.

"It is the duty of national politicians to do their homework," Mr Oettinger told Financial Times Deutschland in an interview published on Wednesday (10 March). The German commissioner warned against common storage sites, as well as exporting the radioactive material outside the EU, for instance Russia.

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The Times last month reported of plans to ship high-level nuclear waste from Western member states to eastern European ones, for burial in a central underground storage facility, which would be a cheaper option.

But in Mr Oettinger's view, such plans are out of the question. Special waste export for economic reasons was "scandalous and dangerous", he said, adding that it applied to nuclear waste as well. Placing this material outside the EU borders, was also a no-go because Brussels had no ways of inspecting those sites, he said.

The European Commission will table by the end of this year a set of common safety standards for nuclear waste storage across the EU, the commissioner added.

Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso announced these plans on Monday in Paris, during a conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The question of radioactive waste storage was a "major concern" for the EU public opinion and a precondition for "safe, durable and optimal use" of nuclear energy, Mr Barroso said.

Most European countries using nuclear energy keep the waste in interim storage facilities, but several governments are now moving on setting up deep geological repositories for permanent use.

The first site is due to be up and running in Finland in 2020, followed by Sweden three years after and France in 2025, experts who addressed a forum at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), have said in a "vision paper", AFP reported last month.

Only 15 out of the 27 EU member states have nuclear plants, with a total of 145 reactors. France is one of the biggest nuclear waste producers, with its 59 reactors producing almost 80 percent of the country's electricity.

Brussels has no say on the choice of building or closing such facilities, which is made exclusively by national governments and sometimes requires a national referendum. The Austrian public, for instance, rejected the use of a brand-new nuclear reactor in 1978, which was built but never switched on.

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