Premier Wen Jiabao of the State Council signed a decree to issue Regulation on the Safety Management of Radioactive Waste (hereinafter referred to as Regulation) on Dec. 20, 2011, which will be put into effect as of Mar. 1, 2012. An official from the Office of Legislative Affairs of the State Council recently answered questions from reporters.
Q: Why do we need to prepare this Regulation?
A: The safety of radioactive waste concerns human health and environmental safety as well as the health development of nuclear energy and application of nuclear technology. To ensure the safety of radioactive waste, we formulated Law on Prevention and Control of Radioactive Pollution in 2003 which set out the principle on radioactive waste management. To make it more operational and guarantee implementation of laws, we need to refine some principles. For instance, we need to improve the license system for storage and disposal of solid radioactive waste, clarify the requirement and procedure for licensing, strengthen safety supervision on treatment, storage and disposal of radioactive waste and ensure the safety in the whole process of treatment, storage and disposal. We should also define requirement on the location and construction of disposal facilities, their safety conditions and supervision after closure to ensure the long-term safety. We also made detailed explanation on the liabilities for related violations.
Q: What is the scope of adjustment to the Regulation?
A: Safety management of radioactive waste includes many aspects ranging from pollutant discharge, processing, storage, to disposal, transport and emergency response. The Law on Prevention and Control of Radioactive Pollution has a quite complete set of provisions on discharge of radioactive pollutants and there are also separate laws and regulations regulating the transport and emergency response with regard to radioactive waste such as Regulation on Management of Safety Transport of Radioactive Waste, Law on Emergency Responses, Regulation on Emergency Response to Nuclear Accidents of Nuclear Power Plants and Regulation on Safety and Protection of Radioactive Isotope and Radial Ray Equipment. Therefore, this Regulation mainly focuses on the processing, storage and disposal of radioactive waste and its supplementary articles add some provisions on transport and emergency response. Provisions on discharge of radioactive pollution were not repeated here, as they were defined in the Law on Prevention and Control of Radioactive Pollution.
Q: What is the meaning of processing, storage and disposal? What is the difference among the three?
A: In a broad sense, both storage and disposal are a kind of processing, but for management of radioactive waste, processing refers to activities that change the property, form or volume of waste before their storage and disposal such as purification, enrichment, hardening, compression and packaging. The purpose is to meet the needs of transport, storage and disposal. For instance, processing is to sort out things in a mess for the purpose of safekeeping while storage and disposal is to keep things that have been sorted out.
In addition, both storage and disposal relate to keeping radioactive waste. The difference is the length of time things are kept. Storage is an intermediate link where things were kept temporarily while disposal is the ultimate link where things are kept eternally. Storage is like a transfer station, for most of the nuclear technology application organizations are scattered around and will not generate a large amount of waste (such as hospitals). It is impossible to require each organization to send their waste to the disposal facilities whether from technical or economic aspect. Therefore, it is necessary to build some storage facilities to put dispersed waste together. When the waste was accumulated to a certain amount or reach a certain time limit, they will be relieved from cleaning control or sent to the disposal organization for ultimate disposal.
Q: In what way is the license system for storage and disposal of solid radioactive waste improved?
A: The license system for storage and disposal of solid radioactive waste is a crucial system for safety management of radioactive waste established by the Law on Prevention and Control of Radioactive Pollution. The Regulation improves the system in the aspect of license conditions and procedures. First, it clarifies the conditions for granting license to storage and disposal organizations in terms of the qualification of the organization, specialty capability, the site for special facilities, quality control system and financial status. Second, it provides detailed requirement on application and approval of license for storage and disposal of solid radioactive waste, the content of license, valid period and procedure for license change. Third, any solid radioactive waste storage or disposal activities not allowed by the license or without the possession of license are prohibited.
Q: What safety supervision measures does the Regulation provide on the processing, storage and disposal of radioactive waste?
A: Processing, storage and disposal are the three core links of radioactive waste management. Therefore, the Regulation provides the following four requirements:
First, any activities on the processing, storage and disposal of radioactive waste shall abide by the national regulations on the prevention and control of radioactive pollution and regulations made by MEP.
Second, operators of nuclear facilities and organizations applying nuclear technology shall process their waste radioactive sources, other solid radioactive waste and waste liquid that cannot be discharged after purification and send them to licensed organizations for storage or disposal.
Third, organizations engaged in storage and disposal of solid radioactive waste shall establish records on storage and disposal of solid radioactive waste accepted, strengthen safety check and monitoring of radioactivity. They must take prompt measures and report on any unusual cases.
Fourth, the Regulation strengthens supervision and examination on the processing, storage and disposal of radioactive waste and requires related organizations to establish security system and personnel training system and report their situation regularly.
Q: What are the provisions on the long-term safety of disposal facilities for solid radioactive waste?
A: Solid radioactive waste sent for disposal usually has a long decay period, which makes it necessary to set out more stringent requirement on the safety management of disposal facilities. Therefore, the Regulation includes stipulations on the location of disposal facilities, their construction, safety condition and safety supervision after closure.
First, it clarifies the location of disposal facilities for solid radioactive waste, specifying that construction of the disposal facilities should be based on full research and review of the natural, social and economic conditions of the sites. The approval of location and construction license should be applied according to law.
Second, according to different decay periods of solid radioactive waste, it provides that solid radioactive waste of middle and low level radioactivity shall be isolated for at least 300 years after closure while facilities disposing of high level solid radioactive waste and α-bearing waste must be isolated for at least 10,000 years after closure.
Third, the Regulation establishes post-closure safety supervision system for disposal facilities. The disposal organization shall provide safety supervision service according to approved safety supervision plan after the facilities are shut down by law.
Q: What legal liabilities are provided for violation of radioactive waste management?
A: The Regulation provides the following articles to ensure implementation of various systems and measures, punish violators and define strict liabilities of supervision department and related organizations.
First, if the supervision department and their staff are found to practice favoritism and fraud, abuse of power and dereliction of duty such as granting license against law, not dealing with violations according to law and seeking personal benefits, they will be punished or prosecuted according to law.
Second, if organizations dealing with radioactive waste breach law such as sending related waste for storage and disposal against law, operating without license or engaged in storage and disposal as opposed by the license and giving false report, they will be ordered to stop their activities, rectify within a set time limit, pay penalty, suspend business or their licenses will be revoked.