Timeline of nuclear waste management

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This is a timeline of nuclear waste management, describing historic events and important treaties and policies that shaped the evolution of management of nuclear waste.

Big picture

Time period Development summary More details
Late 19th century < Early years Health and safety concerns would be associated with radioactive materials throughout the twentieth century. However, the radioactive waste "problem" is early recognized at around the time of the discovery of radioactivity in 1895. Radium, like x-rays, is soon adopted for several industrial uses; for example, workers in the 1910s and 1920s paint watch dials with radium so that they would glow in the dark. Observers would soon note that these radioactive materials are associated with harmful side effects. Efforts in response to the recognition of the health effects of radioactive materials result in the formation of the International Committee on Radiation Protection in 1928.[1]
1930s–1940s Primary focus on nuclear weapons Industrial work with radioactive materials is relatively small in scale through the 1930s, but events during and after World War II would change matters dramatically. The work done to construct atomic weapons begins, and still today it continues to have profound environmental and political effects in the contemporary world. Waste management is not a high priority during WWII, and not much thought is given to the development of a long-term waste disposal plan.[1]
1950s < Civilian nuclear waste era The use of nuclear reactors for commercial power generation begins in the mid-1950s. By the late 1950s, experts involved with the commercial waste problem recommend a strategy of geologic storage of high-level radioactive waste from commercial nuclear power plants as the preferred long-term disposal option. By isolating wastes deep in underground caverns, these materials could be safely removed from contact with the biosphere. By the early 1960s, geologic storage becomes the accepted waste management strategy within the AEC. Electric utilities begin to invest in nuclear plants in the in mid-1960s, and the industry booms as the cost of fossil fuels skyrocket in response to the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973.[2] As a result, the amount of nuclear waste produced increases exponentially. In the 1970s and 1980s, nuclear agencies in France and around the world propose the idea of firing the waste into space in a rocket or putting it deep in the ocean. Both would be eventually rejected as too dangerous, with fears that a rocket could explode in the atmosphere and the radiation could leak into the ocean. In the 1990s, governments and scientists seem to have converged on the idea of burying the radioactive waste in storage facilities designed to last for ever.[3]

Full timeline

Year Event type Details Geographical location
1895 Scientific development German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen discovers X rays.[4] Germany
1896 Scientific development French physicist Henry Becquerel identifies radioactivity.[5][6][7] France
1898 Scientific development French scientists Pierre and Marie Curie announce that they have identified a new element, radium, that has radioactive properties.[1] France
1928 Organization The International X-ray and Radium Protection Committee (IXRPC) is founded at the second International Congress of Radiology in Stockholm.[4] Sweden
1942 Scientific development The first self-sustaining nuclear reaction is created in a scientific facility at the University of Chicago.[8] United States
1945 Background The first successful test of atomic bomb takes place in Alamogordo, New Mexico. In the same year, the United States drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.[8] United States, Japan
1946 Organization The United States Atomic Energy Commission is founded.[9][10][11] United States
1946 Policy A trefoil — three black blades on a yellow background — is created as the international warning symbol for radiation.[3]
1950 Organization The International X-ray and Radium Protection Committee (IXRPC) is restructured to take account of new uses of radiation outside the medical area, and is renamed International Commission on Radiological Protection.[4]
1955 – 1957 Policy The United States Atomic Energy Commission requests that the National Academy of Sciences consider the possibilities of disposing of high-level radioactive waste in quantity within the continental limits of the country. This request would lead to a conference at Princeton in 1955 and the subsequent 1957 report The Disposal of Radioactive Waste on Land. The problem posed to the National Academy of Sciences at that time is primarily the disposal of fission products from the reactors used in weapons manufacture.[2] United States
1956 Power plant Calder Hall, the first commercial nuclear power station for civil use, opens in Sellafield, England.[12] United Kingdom
1957 (July 29) Organization The International Atomic Energy Agency is established. It is an autonomous intergovernmental organization dedicated to increasing the contribution of atomic energy to the world’s peace and well-being and ensuring that agency assistance is not used for military purposes.[13][8][14] The IAEA is headquartered in Vienna.
1957 Publication The United States National Research Council publishes the report The Disposal of Radioactive Waste on Land, one of the first technical analyses of the geological disposal option. The publication marks the beginning of a four-decade effort by the national government to identify a disposal site for commercial spent fuel and defense waste (high-level waste).[2] United States
1957 Storage Extensive geological investigations start in Russia for suitable injection layers for radioactive waste, an approach that involves the injection of liquid radioactive waste directly into a layer of rock deep underground. Three sites are found, all in sedimentary rocks, at Krasnoyarsk, Tomsk, and Dimitrovgrad. In total, some tens of millions of cubic metres of low-level waste, intermediate-level waste and high-level waste would be injected in Russia.[15] Russia
1959 The United States Atomic Energy Commission licenses commercial boats to haul 55-gallon drums filled with radioactive wastes out to sea, to be dumped overboard into deep water. Managers reason that the barrels would sink deeply enough that, even if they corroded or ruptured, the wastes would be sufficiently diluted in the ocean to pose no danger.[1] United States
1961 Facility An International Atomic Energy Agency lab opens in Austria, creating a channel for cooperative global nuclear research.[8] Austria
1968 – 2002 Approximately 47,000 tonnes of nuclear waste are produced in the period by commercial reactors in the United States.[16] United States
1970 Study A study by the United States National Academy of Science, determines that the federal government should build a permanent geologic repository for high-level nuclear waste.[17] United States
1970s Storage In the United States, direct injection of about 7500 cubic metres of low-level waste as cement slurries is undertaken during the decade, at a depth of about 300 meters over a period of 10 years at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee. It would later be abandoned because of uncertainties over the migration of the grout in the surrounding fractured rocks (shales).[15] United States
1970s Storage The concept of deep borehole disposal of high-level radioactive waste is developed.[18]
1972 Treaty The Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (generally known as the London Convention) is adopted. [19] United Kingdom
1977 Organization Germany’s Gesellschaft für Nuklear-Service mbH (GNS) is set up. Owned by the country's four nuclear utilities, is both an operator of waste storage and supplier of storage casks.[15] Germany
1978 Facility After five years of pilot plant operation, France's large AVM (Atelier de Vitrification Marcoule) plant starts up, turning cubic feet of concentrated high-level nuclear wastes into solid glass.[20][21][22] France
1979 Organization The Deutsche Gesellschaft zum Bau und Betrieb von Endlagern für Abfallstoffe mbH (DBE) (The German Society for the construction and operation of waste repositories) is founded and based in Peine. The company employs approximately 570 employees and is for 75% owned by the Gesellschaft für Nuklear-Service (GNS).[23] Germany
1979 Crisis The Three mile island accident is the worst accident in United States commercial reactor history. The accident is caused by a loss of coolant from the reactor core due to a combination of mechanical malfunction and human error. However, no one is injured, and no overexposure to radiation results from the accident.[12][24][8] United States
1980 Organization The Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company (Svensk Kärnbränslehantering AB, known as SKB) is created. It is responsible for final disposal of nuclear waste in the country. Sweden
1980 The United States Department of Energy (DOE) proposes the use of mined geologic repositories as the most viable option for disposal of transuranic nuclear waste.[25] United States
1980 Swedish voters, concerned about the dangers of radiation and difficulties of waste disposal, vote in a referendum to close down all the country's nuclear reactors within 30 years and to consider a whole range of alternative sources of power.[20] Sweden
1982 Policy The United States Congress passes the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA), which establishes the Federal government’s responsibility to provide permanent disposal in a deep geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste from commercial and defense facilities.[26] United States
1982 Storage facility The Lanyu storage site, a nuclear waste storage facility, is built at the Southern tip of Orchid Island in Taitung County, offshore of Taiwan Island. It is owned and operated by Taipower Company. The facility receives nuclear waste from Taipower's current three nuclear power plants. However, due to the strong resistance from local community in the island, the nuclear waste has to be stored at the power plant facilities themselves.[27][28] Taiwan
1982 Policy United States President Jimmy Carter, concerned about the possibility of nuclear proliferation, bans commercial reprocessing of spent fuel for private companies, leaving no long-term option for spent fuel storage and reprocessing available to utilities.[17][29] United States
1983 Policy A Nuclear Waste Policy Act requires the United States Department of Energy to start taking utilities’ spent fuel by Jan. 31, 1998. It directs DOE to begin studying sites for permanent repositories and establishes a schedule for that process.[17] United States
1985 Sweden starts operating a radioactive waste sea transport system. A specially built ship, the M/S Sigyn, carries all radioactive waste between nuclear facilities and the national Central Interim Storage Facility for Spent Nuclear Fuel, located in Oskarshamn in southern Sweden.[30] Sweden
1986 Crisis The Chernobyl disaster occurs after a safety test deliberately turns off safety systems. A large amount of radiation occurs, over fifty firefighter die, and up to 4,000 civilians are estimated to die of early cancer.[31] Ukraine
1987 Policy The United States Nuclear Waste Policy Act is amended to designate Yucca Mountain, located in the remote Nevada desert, as the sole national repository for spent fuel and high-level waste from nuclear power and military defence programs.[15] United States
1988 Facility The Swedish Final Repository for Radioactive Operational Waste (SFR) starts operations for disposal of low-level short-lived radioactive waste. The first of its kind in the world, in granite rock 50 meters (164 feet) below the Baltic Sea, the SFR is 60 meters offshore, connected by a tunnel to the site of the Forsmark nuclear power plant in central Sweden.[30] Sweden
1988 – 1990 Study In 1988, the United States Board on Radioactive Waste Management convenes a study session with experts from the United States and abroad to discuss U.S. policies and programs for managing the nation's spent fuel and high-level waste. In 1990, the board would publish report Rethinking High-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal, which provides a broad assessment of the technical and policy challenges for developing a repository for the disposition of high-level waste. The report notes that: “There is a strong worldwide consensus that the best, safest long-term option for dealing with HLW is geological isolation…. Although the scientific community has high confidence that the general strategy of geological isolation is the best one to pursue, the challenges are formidable.”[2] United States
1989 (March 22) Treaty The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal is signed. The agreement provides the general framework for the minimization of international movement and the environmentally safe management of hazardous wastes.[32][33][34] Switzerland
1991 (January 30) Treaty The Convention on the Ban of Imports into Africa and the Control of Transboundary Movement and Management of Hazardous Wastes within Africa (Bamako Convention) is adopted by African governments in Bamako, Mali.[35][36][37] Mali
1992 Facility A near-surface disposal facility in cavern below ground level opens in Olkiluoto, Finland for low-level waste and intermediate-level waste.[15] Finland
1995 Legal A parliamentary waste commission report speaks of the "possible existence of national and international trafficking in radioactive waste, managed by business and criminal lobbies, which are believed to operate also with the approval of institutional subjects belonging to countries and governments of the European Union and outside the EU."[38]
1996 Legal The 1996 Protocol to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (known as the London Protocol) enters into force. Rather than stating which materials may not be dumped into the sea, the convention prohibits all dumping, except for possibly acceptable wastes.[19]
1997 Treaty The Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management takes place in Vienna as an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) treaty. It is the first treaty to address radioactive waste management on a global scale.[39][40] Austria
1997 Facility A near-surface disposal facility in cavern below ground level opens in Loviisa, Finland. The depth of this is about 100 meters.[15] Finland
1998 (April 22) Treaty The Bamako Convention comes into force.[41]
1999 Facility The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) becomes operational in New Mexico for defence transuranic wastes (long-lived intermediate-level waste).[15][42] United States
2000s Storage Dry cask storage is used in the United States, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Belgium, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Japan, Armenia, Argentina, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, South Korea, Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine and Lithuania.[43] United States, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Belgium, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Japan, Armenia, Argentina, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, South Korea, Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, Lithuania
2002 Storage After over 30 years of scientific and technological studies, the United States President and Congress approve the Yucca Mountain site as suitable for a repository os nuclear waste.[26] United States
2006 Facility The KURT (Korea Underground Research Tunnel), a cave-type underground research facility, is constructed at the site of the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI), as part of the atomic energy R&D program in Korea. The KURT conducts research on deep geological repository for high-level radioactive wastes disposal.[44] South Korea
2009 Facility The Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company (SKB) announces its decision to locate a mined repository at Östhammar (Forsmark).[15] Sweden
2011 Organization Magnox Ltd is founded as a nuclear waste company. It is responsible for the decommissioning of ten Magnox nuclear power stations in the United Kingdom.[45] United Kingdom
2013 Publication Documentary Journey to the Safest Place on Earth is released. It discusses the huge quantity of radioactive waste and spent fuel rods being stored at various locations on the planet.
2017 Storage France's Areva launches the NUHOMS Matrix advanced used nuclear fuel storage overpack, a high-density system for storing multiple spent fuel rods in canisters.[46] France}

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See also

External links


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