Radioactive waste management
Dry storage concrete containers for nuclear waste. Photo: Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), Canada

Radioactive waste management refers to the safe treatment, storage and disposal of liquid, solid and gas discharge from nuclear industry operations with the goal of protecting people and the environment.

Radioactive waste of various types results from any activity that makes use of nuclear materials, including medical and industrial uses. However, nuclear energy is the most important source of such wastes because of the larger volumes generated and its long-lived nature. Whatever their origin, radioactive wastes have to be managed safely and economically.

In general, radioactive waste is separated into three categories: low-level waste (LLW), intermediate- level waste (ILW) and high-level waste (HLW), depending on its level of radioactivity and the length of time it remains hazardous. Disposal of LLW and most ILW is a mature practice, while most HLW is safely stored in dedicated facilities. The permanent disposal of HLW in deep geological repositories is accepted to be practicable by the scientific and technical community, but has yet to be accepted by civil society in many countries.

The activities necessary for managing radioactive waste properly can be categorised into the following steps:

  • minimising the amounts created
  • conditioning and packaging to permit safe handling and protection during transport
  • interim storage
  • final disposal.
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NEA work on this topic

The NEA assists member countries in the development of safe, sustainable and societally acceptable strategies for the management of all types of radioactive waste.

The NEA's Radioactive Radioactive Waste Management Committee (RWMC)  supports members in the development of safe and economically efficient management of all types of radioactive waste including spent fuel considered as radioactive waste based on the latest scientific and technological knowledge. 

The RWMC was created in 1975 as an international committee which consists of senior representatives from regulatory authorities, radioactive waste management and decommissioning organisations, policymaking bodies and research-and-development institutions from the NEA countries. 

It provides a neutral forum where policymakers, regulators and implementing organisations can discuss issues of common interest, and develop best practices and feasible solutions that meet the diverse needs of its participants.