The Management of Radioactive Waste in France: What Is the Threat?
Radioactive waste is a potentially valuable material for a terrorist organization that could use it against the population with malicious intent. This article addresses the key aspects of this issue through the prism the radioactive waste management, and illustrates how this security challenge has been considered in the French electro-nuclear field. Indeed, with 58 nuclear power reactors each producing yearly a significant amount of various types of radioactive materials, the management of the final waste product is of paramount importance in regard to the long-term safety of the population and the protection of the environment, as well as in terms of security threat mitigation.
Concerning the LILW-SL radioactive waste, which also might be suitable for a potential terrorist plan, the final conditioning of the materials stabilizes the waste form and prevents all potential release of contaminated particles inside the dedicated containers. Such methodology provides a solid barrier against any unauthorized attempt to retrieve the active substance. The disposal facilities developed in France by Andra, have been designed and are operated with the view to mitigate the risk of pollution and to limit the risk of voluntary intrusion. The concept of a near surface repository that includes engineered barriers consisting of concrete vaults drastically decreases the possibility of attacks with the objective to extract the radioactive inventory disposed of on the site.
The proliferation threat is much more relevant when it comes to the spent nuclear fuel. It should be considered with all due attention during all stages of the spent fuel management. France re-cycles the spent fuel and the final residues are immobilized within a glass matrix and packed into canisters that make the material much less “attractive” for proliferation purposes. Considering the French project of a deep geological repository for HL radioactive waste, also developed by Andra, the waste package retrievability is one of the major design-driving characteristics. A possibility of malicious attempts to retrieve the waste for proliferation is therefore considered a risk and is taken into account already at the design phase. This experience of Andra is also taken into account in the frame of IAEA’s ASTOR group work.
As with infamous nuclear disasters of 1986 and 2011, contaminated materials could also become an easy target for a terrorist organization. In this respect, Andra has developed a quick-to-implement disposal solution designed to accommodate large amounts of low-level radioactive materials. This solution ensures the ultimate safety for the surrounding population and the environment, and reduces the possibilities of repository violation.
In response to the proliferation threat and other potential security concerns, France has developed an effective and comprehensive radioactive waste management plan that prioritizes the safety of the population and the protection of the environment, and provides a high level of security in this domain.