International Atomic Energy Agency still says “entombment” is not an acceptable decommissioning strategy

November 2, 2020

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Canada’s “captured” nuclear regulator, had hoped that the latest updated guidance from IAEA would allow entombment of old reactors as a decommissioning strategy.

Here is CNSC in 2017, “dispositioning” critical comments on the proposed entombment of old (and still highly radioactive) nuclear reactors at Rolphton, Ontario and Pinawa, Manitoba:

“Yes, the document referenced, IAEA GSR 6, indicates that
entombment is not recognized internationally, in principle,
as a preferred decommissioning strategy (entombment may
be considered a solution only under exceptional
circumstances, such as following a severe accident). The
IAEA is currently working on a document to provide
guidance with respect to their position on entombment
in situ decommissioning the applicability of entombment in
the context of decommissioning and in particular, the
regulatory requirements and expectations for applying
entombment as a decommissioning option strategy. There is
no scheduled date for the publication of this document;
however, CNSC staff will keep apprised of its development
to inform this EA and licensing review process.
Irrespective of the IAEA guidance document, under the
CNSC’s regulatory framework, applicants are responsible
for selecting and justifying their proposed decommissioning

That quotation is from this document:
Page 9, top right.

The CNSC must have been disappointed when the new IAEA guidance document was published in 2018 and it STILL says that entombment is not acceptable as a decommissioning strategy.

The new IAEA document is

Decommissioning of Nuclear Power Plants, Research Reactors and Other Nuclear Fuel Cycle Facilities ~ Specific Safety Guide No. SSG-47, Vienna, 2018

The relevant text is section 5.17 on page 32 and it reads as follows:

Entombment, in which all or part of the facility is encased in a structurally long lived material, should not be considered an acceptable strategy for planned decommissioning. It might be considered as a last option for managing facilities that have been damaged in an accident, if other options are not possible owing to high exposures of workers or technical difficulties.

The IAEA explicitly recommended that Canada align its decommissioning strategy with this standard, during a peer review mission in September 2019. See a summary of IAEA recommendations to Canada here.

Undeterred, the CNSC is attempting to make entombment acceptable in its own “RegDocs”, pseudo regulations that rely heavily on nuclear industry created CSA standards, but that is another story, that is covered elsewhere. See Ole Hendrickson’s recent Op Ed in the Hill Times and the recent letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that requests urgent action to address nuclear safety gaps in Canada.