The historical Radioactive Waste Project

Since the commissioning of the High Flux Reactor and the Low Flux Reactor in Petten over fifty years ago, radioactive waste has been produced. The waste, not only from Petten but from all over the Netherlands (for example from hospitals), has been stored for many years in the dedicated radioactive solid waste storage facility on ECN/NRG’s research site, the Waste Storage Facility (WSF).

In its ‘Memorandum on Radioactive Waste’, the government stipulated that from 1984 all the waste produced in the Netherlands must be collected, processed and stored by a central organisation. The Central Organisation for Radioactive Waste (COVRA) was set up for this purpose. Until the early 1990s, COVRA was based in Petten, with the WSF serving as ‘national storage facility’. Thereafter COVRA moved to Nieuwdorp (Zeeland).

COVRA’s move
From that time, not only has all the ‘operational’ waste from the Netherlands been stored in Zeeland, but also all the historical waste from Petten. The first transport took place in November 1991. This was the start of many transports and in the next two years, hundreds of drums of ‘low-level’ low and medium activity historical waste were transferred.

The WSF now stores medium and high activity radioactive and fissile material containing historical waste (approx. 1700 cans) and operational waste that will be disposed of once it is sufficiently decayed. The intention was to move this waste from Petten once COVRA had a special facility ready for it there. This was the case in September 2003. The High activity Treatment and Storage Building (HABOG) was opened at COVRA. At NRG, the Radioactive Waste Project (RAP) began.

The need for ‘repackaging’
The RAP project rapidly revealed that the cans in the WSF did not comply with the packaging requirements imposed by COVRA on long-term storage. This was because the waste from Petten dates from a time when different materials and parts of varying radiation levels were stored together. Sorting, repackaging and conditioning were therefore required. However, neither COVRA nor NRG had suitable instruments for this purpose.

The RAP project consists of the following elements:

  • Developing equipment (for sorting, separation and packaging) to facilitate transportation and storage.
  • Adapting existing laboratories at Petten to implement the project safely and responsibly.
  • Arranging safe transport, in containers specially developed and certified for the purpose. The ‘Intermediate Level’ waste is cemented and compacted abroad to make it suitable for storage in the HABOG.

The operation is summarised in the step-by-step plan.