Experts say Macedonia needs safe, permanent nuclear waste depot

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Macedonia, under international regulations applying to countries with nuclear waste, must construct a depot to store radioactive materials. However, opposition by residents of potential locations has thwarted the country from complying with the requirement. The struggle to find a depot site has continued for five years.

The latest case attracting public attention is that of Sopiste Municipality, outside Skopje, which refuses to allow construction of a depot on its territory. The facility would store residues from devices using radioactive elements -- such as old lightning rods or laboratory and X-ray residue. Currently, temporary dumps in unsafe urban locations, namely, the grounds of the Brazing Institute and former Radioisotope Centre, contain the country´s nuclear waste.

Directorate of Radiation Safety sources say those temporary facilities comply with safety standards, but independent experts say they should not be located in populated areas. The directorate says that a permanent 50-sq.-m depot is necessary for the next 100 years and that the location should be 10 to 15km away from a settlement. Any such facility must comply with international regulations. The depot´s concrete walls must be 1m thick. Transport of waste must occur in special vehicles or lead containers in order to block radiation from exceeding 0.25 microsievert (µSv) per hour, the upper limit for ionising radiation in Macedonia.

Macedonia must manage nuclear waste safely under the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU. Moreover, in 1995, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) charged Macedonia with the responsibility to build a radioactive waste depot -- which remains unaccomplished. In 2005, officials tried to designate a location near Petrovec Airport, but nearby residents also hampered construction. Earlier this month, the Sopiste Municipal Council decided to ban all activities related to radioactive waste after receiving information about possible construction of a depot on its territory.

"Sopiste has been declared an ecologically pristine municipality, and it celebrates Earth Day, so it will not allow construction of such a location where Lake Kozjak, the Treska River and Jasen Hunting Grounds are located; that is, where there is intact natural ambiance," Mayor Ljupco Mickovski-Kec said.
The directorate says that it has yet to select a location and that it is awaiting instructions from the IAEA.

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