Lithuania is safely planning a deep geological repository project for the final disposal of spent nuclear fuel and long-lived radioactive waste, according to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts who concluded a ten-day integrated mission.
During the mission, which took place from the 17th to the 25th of July this year, the international IAEA experts assessed the progress made by Lithuania in the process of selecting potentially suitable sites for a deep geological repository.
The assessments were carried out by the IAEA Integrated Review Service for Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management, Decommissioning and Remediation (ARTEMIS) at the invitation of the Ministry of Energy of the Republic of Lithuania and the Ignalina NPP. During the mission, independent experts conducted an assessment based on IAEA safety standards, technical guidelines, and international best practices.
According to Audrius Kamienas, Acting Director General of the Ignalina NPP, it is of paramount importance to ensure that Lithuania is on the right track from the very first stages of the project, i.e., the installation of the repository.
"The implementation of the deep repository project in Lithuania is a complex, step-by-step process that has been going on for several decades. Drawing on advanced deep repository programmes in other countries and guided by the insights of competent experts, we are applying useful know-how throughout the project management process. We must be ready to move on to the next phases of the project once we are confident that what we are doing today meets all applicable international safety standards and requirements and is in line with global best practice for analogous projects," notes Mr. Kamienas.
The ARTEMIS mission experts assessed the adequacy of the deep repository siting process, including the timelines. The methodology, quality and content of the studies prepared for each stage of the siting process were also evaluated. The mission evaluated the results of the first phase of the site selection process and the priorities and process of prioritisation for the selection of sites potentially suitable for repository development. The final report of the ARTEMIS mission will be submitted by the IAEA to Lithuania within two months.
Based on the results of the ARTEMIS mission, it is planned to revise the legislation on radioactive waste management in order to clarify the process of deep repository site selection, to increase public participation in the deep repository project and to strengthen the competences and capacities of the project stakeholders for effective project implementation and management.
A deep geological repository is a special engineered structure for the management of long-lived radioactive waste that is constructed in the ground at a depth of several hundred metres, where natural and engineered barriers ensure the safety of people and the environment.
Lithuania, a member of the European Union since 2004, undertook to decommission the Ignalina Nuclear power plant (INPP) as part of its Accession Treaty. The first unit of the plant was shut down in 2004 and the second in 2009.
Following the closure of the two reactors at the INPP, decommissioning work started. Spent nuclear fuel and other long-lived radioactive materials were generated during the operation of the INPP between 1983 and 2009. However, they are still occurring and will continue to occur during the decommissioning of the plant, which is scheduled to end in 2038.
Following the example of the global nuclear energy community, the examples of other countries in radioactive waste management and the recommendations of the IAEA, Lithuania has established in its legislation that the only sustainable way of final disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste is to store it in a deep geological repository.
The Development Programme for the Management of Nuclear Facilities and Radioactive Waste 2021-2030, approved by the Government, foresees that in Lithuania long-lived radioactive waste will be stored in interim storage facilities and, at the end of their operational period, the final disposal of long-lived radioactive waste will have to be transferred to a deep geological repository. The repository is expected to be constructed and commissioned in 2068.