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European Commission report warns of eight year delay to ISPRA decommissioning work.

A PROGRAMME to safely store nuclear waste and materials at the Ispra site of the European Union's (EU) Joint Research Centre (JRC), in northern Italy, will have to be extended eight years, with an increased cost of Euro 37 million.

The European Commission has admitted in a report that this work will now continue until 2012. It blames a series of internal and external factors that have proved particularly difficult to solve. Ispra hosts a JRC nuclear decommissioning and waste management programme, which is charged with developing waste management and treatment facilities, as well as the removal of nuclear materials and other hazardous substances. These have been generated at Ispra, which is home to various disused nuclear installations. Many of these had been operated in the past by the Italian government, but are now controlled by the JRC, which is a directorate general of the Commission.

However, the JRC blames shortcomings within Italy's nuclear regulations for being partly responsible for the delays, notably "the absence of definitive Italian standards governing the storage of waste" that has caused "the JRC to postpone the conditioning of some waste." Also, there are low limits in Italy for public exposure to radioactivity, which "impose additional constraints on the management and interim storage of waste with subsequent cost implications."

These regulatory difficulties are set against the fact that there is neither a service provider for the treatment of radioactive waste in Italy, nor a national repository either for interim or final storage. "For this reason JRC-Ispra must build several waste treatment and conditioning installations at its Ispra site. In accordance with Italian law, this waste must be capable of being put in interim storage for a period which is still to be determined, but which may be as long as 50 years," noted the report.

However, this work is also hampered by there being "a limited number of local nuclear-qualified contractors". And the Commission's own internal procurement and staffing procedures are sometimes "restrictive given the technically complex nature of the programme". All these problems "contributed to the delay of certain projects in Ispra," said the report. They have also generated "uncertainty concerning the cost of final disposal of waste in a future Italian storage site," which said the report, "represents a potential significant financial risk for the European Union for which the JRC is preparing contingency plans," adding on additional delays.

A resulting risk mitigation strategy has seen officials developing more relevant contacts within Italy and more reliance on turnkey contracts, plus the streamlining of procurement. But this does not solve the problem of whether solutions are able to meet Italian radioactivity exposure limits and available expertise. So there may yet be more delay: "If the uncertainty concerning the waste acceptance criteria persists, JRC will have to refocus the Ispra programme on safe conservation, and postpone the conditioning of waste until a final disposal option is secured," noted the report.

The revised budget for the Ispra programme is now Euro 676 million, up 5.9% on the forecast for 2004. The JRC has discussed its Ispra decommissioning strategy with industry specialists and a 'group of independent experts'. All have "have contributed to and endorsed the strategic choices made," said the report.
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Author:Nuthall, Keith
Publication:International News
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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