Ensuring safe management of radioactive wastes

Promoting environmentally sound treatment of radioactive waste
Strengthening management of radioactive wastes
Ensuring safe planning and environmental assessment for management of radioactive waste
Ensuring safe and environmentally sound management of radioactive waste
Providing for the safe processing, transport and disposal of radioactive waste

Radioactive defence wastes represent the same risks as other types of radioactive wastes. However, in a number of countries, the management of radioactive defence waste is not subject to the same safety rules as the management of other radioactive wastes. In those countries it is outside the control of national civilian radiation protection and safety authorities but generally falls under military rules.

This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities. Agenda 21 recommends promoting policies and practical measures to minimize and limit, where appropriate, the generation of radioactive waste and to provide for its safe processing, conditioning, transportation and disposal. Agenda 21 also recommends proper planning, including environmental impact assessment where appropriate, for safe and environmentally sound management of radioactive waste, including emergency procedures, storage, transportation and disposal, prior to and after activities that generate such waste.

It is imperative that the export of radioactive wastes be inadmissible to countries that do not have the technical, economic, legal and administrative resources for environmentally safe and sound management of radioactive wastes.

Attention is required to the needs of developing countries and economies in transition to establish or strengthen their capacities for the safe management of radioactive wastes, including spent radiation sources.

Governments should:

(a) Apply the precautionary principle ( eg, preparatory measures for final disposal) in decisions concerning new or extended activities generating radioactive wastes;

(b) Undertake the further research and development of such areas as the minimization and reduction of the volume of radioactive wastes, potential sites for the storage of radioactive wastes, safety and health standards associated with the handling of radioactive wastes and remediation procedures and processes;

(c) Fully implement the IAEA and other relevant codes of practice that have been adopted in the area of transboundary movements and the transport of radioactive wastes;

(d) Recommends that governments encourage suppliers of sealed radiation sources to accept the return of such sources and ensure their safe and environmentally sound management after use;

(e) Ensure that radioactive wastes arising from military activities should be subject to the same types of strict safety and environmental regulations as those arising from civilian activities;

(f) Internalize, to the maximum extent possible, all costs of the operations of nuclear facilities and of related waste management, including the decommissioning of nuclear facilities;

(g) Support world-wide efforts to demonstrate viable methods for the safe disposal of long-lived and high-level radioactive wastes and the reinforcement of international cooperation in the field.

Work should begin, in the context of IAEA, after the finalization of the Nuclear Safety Convention, on the development of an international convention on the safety of radioactive waste management, including consideration of the total life-cycle management of nuclear materials. In order to speed up the process, IAEA should urgently complete preparations related to safety fundamentals, which is a prerequisite for beginning such work.

The international community should:

(a) Further support the development of international standards for radioactive waste management;

(b) Take all necessary steps to prohibit the export of radioactive wastes, except to countries with appropriate waste treatment and storage facilities;

(c) Strengthen cooperation and provide assistance to economies in transition in solving their urgent and specific problems due to improper treatment and disposal with regard to radioactive wastes;

(d) Provide technical assistance to developing countries in order to enable them to develop or improve procedures for the management and safe disposal of radioactive wastes deriving from the use of radionuclides in medicine, research and industry;

(e) Facilitate financial assistance to developing countries in order for them to address adequately radioactive waste management problems.


A number of countries have been involved in the monitoring and safe management of radioactive wastes, that legislation has been enacted or am ended and safety standards updated, and that licensing and control procedures have been reviewed.

Efforts have been geared towards identifying and establishing permanent disposal sites for radioactive wastes and that governments are continuing their efforts to manage interim storage facilities and to find practical measures for minimizing and limiting, where appropriate, the generation of those wastes.

Progress has been made in technical, legal and administrative measures at the national, regional and international levels with the aim of ensuring that radioactive wastes are safely managed, transported, stored and disposed of, or are treated with a view to protecting human health and the environment.

International cooperation in research, exchange of information and standard-setting that was carried out in the field under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and, concerning research and the exchange of information, in the European Union. Progress has been made in the IAEA Radioactive Waste Safety Standards (RADWASS) programme. Codes of Practice on the International Transboundary Movement of Radioactive Waste have been developed by IAEA and by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Codes of Practice on the Safe Carriage of Irradiated Nuclear Fuel, Plutonium and High-level Radioactive Waste in Flasks on Board Ships have been developed by IMO.

In November 1993 the Contracting Parties of IMO to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (London Convention, 1972) decided to convert the voluntary moratorium on ocean dumping of all radioactive wastes into a binding prohibition. That global prohibition will strengthen earlier bans agreed upon in regional contexts. The Commission urges all Contracting Parties to the Convention to respect its now binding character.

Type Classification:
E: Emanations of other strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 15: Life on Land