Considerable progress in dealing with the legacies of past nuclear activities has been made over the last decade, and this remediation experience will help to resolve other environmental challenges and avoid similar cases in the future, panellists said at a side event held today on the margins of the IAEA's 63rd General Conference.
"A healthy environment is one of the key requirements for the sustainability of nuclear technologies, including nuclear power," said IAEA Deputy Director General Mikhail Chudakov, Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy. It is now common practice to include plans for remediation when new projects are designed, he added.
Experts from several countries presented case studies of environmental remediation programmes supported by the IAEA. Among them was the project to remediate the Chernobyl cooling pond, an area between the former Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and the Pripyat River.
"As a result of the accident, the pond was heavily contaminated with radionuclides. The main concern was that there would be risks of additional radioactive contamination of the surrounding area, as a result of decommissioning," said Viktor Kuchynskyi, Deputy Head of the Strategic Planning Department of Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. "With IAEA support, a team of international and Ukrainian scientists designed and implemented a project to safely decommission the cooling pond. Also, the staff of the Chernobyl plant gained a valuable new experience, which we are ready to share."
Dennis Amos Mwalongo of the Tanzania Atomic Energy Commission talked about the IAEA's support through a Uranium Production Site Appraisal Mission, requested by the Government of Tanzania, to address the challenges the country was facing while developing its uranium mining and processing capability.
"Planning for uranium mining remediation and decommission should start well ahead before the actual mining starts," he said. "The IAEA project helped us learn from experience of the others and so avoid any potential mistakes or higher than necessary costs."
Participants also discussed the role of partnerships and how they can help promote high standards in implementing environmental remediation projects.
Karen Smith of Argonne National Laboratory in the United States presented outcomes and lessons learned from a decade of training on decommissioning and environmental remediation implemented in cooperation with the IAEA, including training 265 participants from 48 countries.
(Photo: H. Boening/IAEA)
"Lack of capacity can hamper implementation of projects that successfully reduce risk in the safest, most cost-effective and technically appropriate manner possible," she said. "What proved to be a key to success is having a comprehensive curriculum that identifies the baseline level of knowledge required to succeed in a course and maps out the training materials in a structured way."
Sites can also be contaminated due to industrial practices involving naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM). Although some good practices exist, many countries face challenges in finding feasible and implementable approaches for the proper management of NORM wastes and residues. The IAEA has been active in disseminating relevant information to assist national experts and policymakers in addressing NORM contamination.
One project supported by the IAEA was on the remediation and surface radiological characterization of NORM contaminated sites related to former iodine-bromine production facilities in Azerbaijan.
"This was a first of a kind project implemented in Azerbaijan. We saw technical cooperation with the IAEA as a solution to our lack of experience," said Vugar Husseynov, Head of the Azerbaijan's State Agency for Nuclear and Radiological Activity Regulation.
About 400 000 cubic meters of NORM waste has been removed from the sites of three iodine-bromine production plants with a total area of 48.7 ha and safely disposed. The land was recovered for economic activities. Management of NORM wastes in oil production industry continues to be one of major fields of Azerbaijan's cooperation with the IAEA, Husseynov added.
In October 2020, the IAEA will hold its first International Conference on the Management of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM) in Industry.
The IAEA provides support to national experts through training, international peer reviews, international safety demonstration projects, expert missions and projects that focus on specific national or regional issues. Many of these services are delivered through its technical cooperation programme.
"Over 55 IAEA technical cooperation projects in waste management, decommissioning and environmental remediation are currently active," said Dazhu Yang, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Technical Cooperation. "Several of these are focused specifically on remediation, with other concentrating on NORM. We provide assistance primarily in the form of capacity building and support for networking."
The side event marked the 10th anniversary of the IAEA Network of Environmental Management and Remediation (ENVIRONET). The Network was created in 2009 to promote the exchange of experiences and good practices amongst environmental remediation project implementers, regulators and representatives from the technical and scientific communities. The Network also aims to promote competence building in IAEA Member States.