Question Of Reusability Of Spent N-Fuel
India has reiterated its opposition to defining spent nuclear
fuel as a waste and not as a resource for reuse as New Delhi
Indian diplomats have also repeated their call to include waste
from military nuclear installations in the proposed convention to
regulate nuclear waste.
Speaking at the opening day of an international meeting to
finalise the convention on nuclear waste, Indian Ambassador
Yogesh Tiwari said New Delhi considers spent fuel as a resource
which can be reused to generate power.
``For us spent fuel is a resource, containing plutonium-239 in
uranium-based spent fuel and uranium 233 in thorium-based spent
fuel,'' he told delegates from more than 50 countries at the five-
day meeting called by the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA). The meeting has been called to finalise the convention on
nuclear waste, to be called the Joint Convention on Safety of
Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste
Britain, France and Japan, along with India, have opposed the
inclusion of spent fuel in a waste convention. The US however
insists that spent fuel is waste.
Another point of contention is that the Safety Convention and the
proposed waste convention cover only civilian nuclear facilities
or wastes. ``If you are concerned about human safety, then how can
you exclude military waste?'' one Indian official asked.
``Radioactive wastes, regardless of their origin, would demand the
same degree of safety in their management,'' Mr Tiwari, who headed
the Indian delegation, said.
All the five nuclear weapons countries are firmly opposed to the
inclusion of nuclear waste arising from military installations.
Mr Tiwari said India cannot accept the draft convention submitted
to the delegates in its present form. He said signatories have
the right to choose what to place in and what to exclude from the
purview of the convention.
Mr Tiwari pointed out that when IAEA member countries asked the
agency to initiate work on the convention in 1994, they were of
the opinion that wastes are products for which no use is
foreseen. But more recently, particularly from the March 1996
meeting of a group of experts, attempts have been made to convert
the convention on the Safety of Radioactive Waste management into
a joint convention to include spent fuel, he said. The experts'
group was established to draft the convention and agency
officials as well as government representatives were members.
After months of impasse, France broke the deadlock by grasping an
Austrian initiative calling for the inclusion of the spent fuel
in the convention, but to be dealt as a distinct subject
separately from other radioactive waste.
The proposed waste convention caps years of efforts to bring all
safety aspects of civilian nuclear facilities under
internationally accepted standards. The 1994 Nuclear Safety
Convention, which entered into force last October, was the first
step in which countries agreed to maintain high levels of safety
features in planning, designing, construction, operation and
emergency preparedness of civilian nuclear facilities.
Having failed to include the waste aspects in that convention, a
number of countries urged further work to have a separate
convention dealing with waste which would unify existent non-
Exactly when the convention will come into force is still to be
finalised. One proposal is that it should enter into force three
months after ratification by 25 countries, at least 15 of them
having a nuclear power plant.
Once in force, signatories will be obliged to maintain a high
standard in storing and eventual disposal of wastes. Besides, the
convention also claims the primary responsibility of ensuring
that safe waste disposal lies within the territory of a country
where it was generated.
There are generally three kinds of waste generated from nuclear
facilities, including research reactors and power plants. The low
level waste (LLW) accounts for about 80 per cent of the total
generated waste but just one per cent of radioactivity. The
second is low and intermediate level waste and the third is the
high level waste (HLW) which, like spent fuel, is extremely
In the US, for instance, just one per cent of the waste is HLW
but it accounts for 95 per cent of the radioactivity, the
environmental group Greenpeace claims.
While some countries treat the waste to reduce volume and then
keep it in surface storages, others like Britain used to
discharge part of their low level wastes into the sea until a
1993 convention banned it.
The only waste whose treatment still evades a solution is HLW,
including spent fuel. As it is extremely radioactive and hot, it
is usually kept in water pools and then stored in over-ground
storage tanks, but this is a temporary measure until a permanent
solution is found.
Many nuclear experts held in high regard by the IAEA claim the
ideal solution is constructing repositories deep under ground -
as deep as 500-1,000 metres - and having natural and man-made
barriers to prevent radioactive material leaking. The first such
repository is not expected to be pressed into operation before
the year 2010.- IANS.