EU Council draft of nuclear waste directive to allow exports: sources

Thursday, June 30, 2011

European Union member state experts have agreed on a draft text for a new nuclear waste and spent fuel management directive that would allow permanent exports of waste from the EU under certain conditions.

The EU Council's Working Party on Atomic Questions agreed Monday on wording of the controversial nuclear waste export provision that allows export of waste to a non-EU country provided the recipient country has an agreement for nuclear cooperation with Euratom or is a party to the Joint Convention on the safety of spent fuel and radioactive waste management, according to EU member state representatives who have seen the text. The working party comprises EU member state experts in nuclear energy.

The text will now go to the Council for adoption, although there is not enough time to send it up before the next European Council meeting, the last of the Hungarian Council presidency, one member state representative said Tuesday. Poland takes over the EU presidency on July 1.

The member state representative said that if there is no further controversy over the measure, the directive would likely be presented to the first meeting of Coreper, which comprises member state ambassadors, and from there to the first EU Council of the Polish presidency.

The draft directive proposed by the European Commission in November 2010 had banned all exports of radioactive waste from the EU to other countries.

The European Parliament's energy committee, in its report on the draft directive, said some waste exports should be allowed. But the full parliament, in a Thursday vote on the measure, reversed that opinion and sided with the EC. Under the Euratom Treaty that governs nuclear energy matters in the EU, the parliament has only a consultative role.

EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger, speaking at the European Nuclear Safety Conference in Brussels Tuesday, said he regretted that the "total export ban" proposed by the EC, and accepted by the full European Parliament, had been "watered down" by the atomic questions group.

"I very much hope that this controversy will not hold up the legislation," Oettinger said.

Pal Kovacs, Hungary's deputy economy minister, addressing the same conference, described the compromise directive text as one of the main accomplishments of the Hungarian presidency in the nuclear field.

Acknowledging that "there may be some concerns" about the wording on waste exports, Kovacs said it was "the only compromise that was achievable at this time."

European Commission sources said that some member states objected to the total ban on waste exports because they want to ship spent research reactor fuel back to the countries of origin of the fuel -- Russia and the US.

Such shipments have been ongoing for many years under programs subscribed to by both countries to repatriate spent fuel for safety and security reasons.

The original EU member countries have US-origin fuel, while the new post-2004 member states from central and eastern Europe mainly have Russian-origin fuel.

An EC official earlier said the UK had also objected to the waste ban because it wants to leave open the option of sending some spent power reactor fuel to the US.

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