The current major developments in radioactive waste management in Belgium are mainly related to the return of vitrified high-level waste, the selection of final radwaste disposal sites and R&D on disposal of various waste categories.
In view of the return of the vitrified high-level waste resulting from the reprocessing in France of Belgian spent fuel, the preliminary test and transfer programme with an empty transport container was successfully completed on 24 February 2000.
Following the authorization for three return shipments granted by the Minister of the Interior, the first 28 canisters with vitrified high-level waste returned to Belgium on 5 April 2000. Transport by railway, transfer on and transport by lorry to BELGOPROCESS and the ultimate reception, after adequate control, in the interim storage building on the site of BELGOPROCESS in Dessel all went smoothly. A second return transport took place on 17 November 2000. Control at the reception in the interim storage building confirmed that the containers complied with the norms and characteristics that are imposed by the authorities. The communication actions with regard to these transports were jointly taken care of by ONDRAF/NIRAS, SYNATOM and the Minister of the Interior, the latter acting as competent authority in this matter. Web-cameras in the storage building on the site of BELGOPROCESS allowed following through internet all the operations dealing with the reception and manipulation of the containers.
By the end of 2003 six transports of vitrified high level radwaste took place, resulting in the interim storage of 168 containers on the BELGOPROCESS site in Dessel. In total, fifteen transports are planned over a period of ten years to return the vitrified high level radwaste from the reprocessing at La Hague of 630 tU from Belgian nuclear power plants.
At the request of the federal government, who wants the vitrified waste canisters' quality to be guaranteed and to comply with the safety requirements of long-term radioactive waste management, an additional scientific programme requiring both destructive analyses of a glass sample and non destructive analyses of a vitrified waste canister will have to be carried out in close cooperation between ONDRAF/NIRAS, SCKoCEN and COGEMA. Because of the complexity of the programme, results are not expected before 2006.
As far as low-level and short-lived waste is concerned, ONDRAF/NIRAS continued to concentrate its activities on the existing nuclear zones in Belgium, following the decision of the Belgian federal government of 16 January 1998. Among these zones, those of Dessel (where BELGOPROCESS is located) and Mol (SCKoCEN) witnessed considerable progress with the establishment of local partnerships. The aim of these local partnerships is to involve the various local actors (political, social, cultural, etc.) in the development of activities that may result in a disposal project proposal that can be integrated in a more global project with a positive impact for the zone concerned and that can be accepted by the local population and authorities.
After the creation of a partnership in Dessel in September 1999 (called STOLA), a second partnership was established in Mol in February 2000 (called MONA). Both partnerships reached their cruising speed and created several working groups to study various aspects an integrated disposal project might involve (location, social-economical impact on the region, local development compensations, environment, safety, etc.). They also developed their own websites to inform the local public.
In Fleurus/Farciennes, a local information committee was first created to follow and assess the results of a preliminary geological survey on the nuclear site of the IRE that was carried out at the request of the local authorities. In 2002, the site investigations have concluded positively of a near surface disposal, after which the decision to create a local partnership was taken by both communities. It was established in October 2002 under the name PaLoFF (Partenariat Local Fleurus/Farciennes). The authorities of the nuclear zones of Tihange and Doel have not changed the opinion they already formulated in 1999 (no participation in a local partnership).