x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

'Decision soon' on UAE nuclear waste

A decision could be made as soon as next month, according to a source close to the country's nuclear authorities.

Dr William Travers, the Director General of the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR), makes a point. Lee Hoagland / The National
Dr William Travers, the Director General of the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR), makes a point. Lee Hoagland / The National

ABU DHABI // A decision could be made as soon as next month on where the UAE will dispose of the waste from its nuclear power plant.

Dr John Loy, director of radiation safety at the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation, would not be drawn on that expected timetable yesterday but said the Government was being vigilant in establishing a national strategy at this early stage.

"In a way, this is very early because you can't really dispose of some of the waste for around 50 years because, physically and radiologically, it's too hot," he said. "The Government is being responsible by considering a national strategy now."

The Government could store the nuclear waste locally or export it to an international repository. The country has officially renounced any enrichment of uranium or reprocessing of spent fuel.

"Options that may be considered for the National Strategy on Nuclear Waste Disposal would be either regional or international repositories operating in different countries," Dr Loy said.

The authority's director general Dr William D Travers said no international agreements had been signed for spent fuel re-export.

"In the US, spent fuel is stored, over decades, in cooling pools," he said.

Major radioactive sources in the UAE used for medical purposes are re-exported to their suppliers when they are spent, he said.

"It could be the UAE's responsibility to develop waste-storage facilities," Dr Loy said, "but even if it does, a nuclear waste disposal authority has to be enacted to safely handle the process."

The authority would be responsible for scouting locations across the UAE to find the most appropriate areas for disposal of low-level waste and high-level waste, the latter of which has to be stored 500 metres underground.

Dr Travers said the authority was not directly involved in formulating a waste strategy but would be responsible for regulating any agency involved in waste management and its facilities.

"Fanr does not know what the policy will be but when the policy is developed and if it includes the development of a waste-management facility in the UAE, Fanr would have the responsibility to regulate and ultimately license it," he said.

The disposal of nuclear waste is problematic as it remains radioactive for many years.

When nuclear fuel is spent, it is firstly stored in cooling pools for a minimum of three years. "They have to be stored in cooling pools for a certain period of time as they are still active and hot and require cooling in the pools," Dr Travers said.

Another option is dry storage, which offers a larger capacity compared to the cooling pools.

Members of the public at a nuclear safety forum yesterday questioned the regulatory experts on the dangers of earthquakes and the nation's readiness to combat local and international leakage and radiation.

Dr Travers said the danger of an earthquake tremor affecting the nuclear plants was minimal. "Plants have been built to withstand the seismic occurrences in South Korea, which is in a much more seismically active region."

He said the National Crisis Emergency and Disaster Management Authority had response plans and Fanr was working with it to ensure response planning in the unlikely event of a radiological release.

Dr Travers also said the UAE had the capability to monitor radiological impacts that might originate outside the country.

"Fanr is currently building its capability to measure radiation around the nuclear plants and this will complement the nation's other radiological monitoring capabilities," he said.

"One of our key priorities is to provide all residents of the UAE with a better understanding of Fanr's role in ensuring nuclear energy is safe and secure; that nuclear energy and nuclear materials are used in a way that is protective of workers, the public and the environment."