First European directive on radioactive waste and spent fuel management

Published on 20/10/2011 at 15:23

Information notice

On 19 July 2011, the Council of the European Union adopted a directive “establishing a Community framework for the responsible and safe management of spent fuel and radioactive waste” (Council Directive 2011/70/Euratom). The adoption of this directive, two years after the nuclear safety directive was adopted, is an important event and helps to reinforce nuclear safety within the European Union, while ensuring that Member States assume responsibility for managing their radioactive waste and spent fuel.

Founded in 1957, the European Atomic Energy Community - or Euratom – had no legislative instrument to provide a specific framework for the management of radioactive waste and spent fuel. This directive is legally binding and establishes a Community framework on this topic of prime importance.

1) The directive covers all aspects of radioactive waste and spent fuel management, from generation through to long-term disposal.

2) It stipulates the prime responsibility of generators and the ultimate responsibility of each Member State for the management of waste generated on its territory by ensuring that appropriate national arrangements are taken to guarantee a high level of safety to protect workers and the general public against the risks arising from ionising radiation.

3) It defines obligations with respect to the safety of spent fuel and radioactive waste management:

  • It obliges each Member State to establish a legal framework applicable to safety issues, providing for:
    • the establishment of a competent regulatory authority with a legal status that guarantees its independence from waste generators;
    • the establishment of licensing procedures, with licence applications being examined, in particular, on the basis of safety demonstrations by the operators.

4) It sets out a framework for the national radioactive waste and spent fuel management policies that each Member State shall implement. In particular, each Member State shall establish a legislative and regulatory framework to set up a national radioactive waste and spent fuel management programme. France has already set up in 2006 its National Radioactive Materials and Waste Management Plan (PNGMDR).

  • The directive also contains provisions relative to:
  • transparency and public participation,
  • financial resources to cover the cost of radioactive waste and spent fuel management,
  • training,
  • obligations concerning regular self-assessments and peer reviews.

It formally establishes the ultimate responsibility of each Member State for the management of its radioactive waste and regulates export conditions for the disposal of this waste.

These points represent a significant step forward towards guaranteeing safe and responsible management of radioactive waste and spent fuel in the European Union.

The French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) and the Directorate General for Energy and Climate (DGEC) have been involved in a long, sustained effort to bring about this directive, which supplements the 2009 “nuclear safety” directive. ASN and DGEC worked together to reach a consensus on the text while making sure that requirements concerning content were satisfied. On the whole, the outcome is very positive, even if some compromises had to be made for certain points. In particular, the French authorities would have liked to enforce more restrictive rules for shipping radioactive waste for disposal outside the European Union. For the record, France has, for the past 20 years, refused to dispose of any radioactive material on its territory other than that generated within its own borders. Such exports are nevertheless governed by Article 4 of the directive.

The directive must now be transposed into national law by each Member State within two years. As far as France is concerned, almost all the provisions of the directive are already part of French law, in particular through the Act of 28 June 2006 on the Sustainable Management of Radioactive Materials and Waste and the Act of 13 June 2006 relative to Transparency and Security in the Nuclear Field.

Implementation schedule

  • Publication in the Official Journal of the European Union: 2 August 2011
  • Transposition in the 27 Member States: by 23 August 2013
  • First notification by Member States of their national radioactive waste and spent fuel management programme to the European Commission by 23 August 2015

For further details:

Date of last update : 03/09/2021