D anish Decommissioning has Denmark's only receiving station for radioactive waste, i.e. where ionising radiation occurs. All users of radioactive sources in the country are obliged to hand over the waste to Danish Decommissioning after use. Hospitals, laboratories, the education sector and industry deliver about 8 m³ of waste annually. In addition, waste is generated from the ongoing decommissioning of Risø's nuclear facilities and from many years of nuclear research and operation at the site.
Solid waste is sorted by activity level. For low-activity sources, the volume is reduced by compressing the waste in concrete-lined drums. Sources with a higher activity level remain in their shielding, are sorted by radiation type (alpha, beta, gamma) and half-life, and packed in specially designed containers. Once such sources have decayed sufficiently, the volume can be reduced by removing the shielding material (typically a metal) and sending it for recycling. The sources themselves will generally remain in DD's custody.
Liquid waste sources are received in drums and stored at a temporary storage facility. Part of the waste decays relatively quickly and, when it falls below a set activity level, can be sent for incineration. Waste water from Risø operations is distilled (volume-reduced) and the concentrated residue - sludge containing radioactive particles - is also sent to a temporary storage facility.
The decommissioning of Risø's nuclear installations generates two types of waste: waste from the dismantling of the structures, and protective and auxiliary equipment (masking tape, gloves, tools, filters, etc.) contaminated with radioactive particles during the work. The construction waste is treated and packaged as much as possible at the dismantling site and then transported to the temporary storage facilities in specially designed containers. The contaminated protective and auxiliary equipment is treated as other solid waste.
The amount of radioactive waste to be disposed of in a future repository is estimated to be about 10,000 - 15,000 cubic metres. This is about twice the volume of the Round Tower - or the waste would fill an area of up to 150 metres by 100 metres if spread out to a height of 1 metre.
The waste is classified as low- and intermediate level (we do not have high-level waste in Denmark). It comes both from Risø and from external users, e.g. hospitals, laboratories, industry and the education sector. It consists of:
Scrap metal and concrete from the demolition of nuclear facilities
Operational waste such as gloves, workwear, masking plastics, syringes, etc.
Sources from external users (e.g. weak sources from smoke alarms and powerful sources from the hospitals’ blood irradiation facilities)
Bitumen (concentrate from distillation of water with radioactive particles)
Tailings (waste product from uranium extraction experiments) and uranium ore (a resource that is potentially waste)
The majority of waste, including all the operational waste, is low-level. A minor part of the waste is intermediate, e.g. control rods and equipment from the DR 3 reactor as well as powerful sources from external users all over the country.
The intermediate-level waste also includes 233 kg of "special waste" – mainly small pieces of spent fuel that have been used for materials research. This waste takes up approx. 1 m³ (excluding shielding) and is, after completion of the decommissioning, estimated to account for more than half of the total amount of activity in the Danish radioactive waste.
The "special waste" does not generate heat that should be taken into account when disposed of. However, its content of long-lived isotopes, together with the level of activity, requires disposal at greater depth than the other waste.
Short-lived isotopes have a half-life of less than 30 years. Long-lived isotopes have a half-life of 30 years and above.
The majority of Danish waste mostly contains short-lived isotopes. A small proportion, including the special waste, contains mostly long-lived isotopes.
Since its inception in 2003, Danish Decommissioning has been responsible for supporting the political process leading to a long-term solution for the radioactive waste. Over the years, three different tracks have been worked on: placement in a disposal solution, placement in a long-term intermediate storage before final disposal, and export of all or part of the waste.
The Ministry of Higher Education and Science has been responsible for policy-making since 2015. A thematic section on their website gathers the most important information on the process so far. The reports etc. contributed by DD can be found on our website under Publications, in the Long-term solution category.
On 15 May 2018, the Danish Parliament passed Resolution B 90. Thus, it was decided to extend the temporary storage of radioactive waste at Risø by up to 50 years, while further activities are initiated in relation to both final disposal and an international solution, including export.
B 90 means that a new upgraded storage facility will be built on Risø for all the radioactive waste. The building is expected to be ready by 2025; read more about the project's progress in this news. Read also various related reports and notes under Publications, in the category Risø – Waste storage & environment.
Within the next few years, GEUS (National Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland) will begin studies on the possibilities of a geological repository at a depth of up to 500 meters below the surface.
Danish Decommissioning will, like GEUS, continue to participate in both national and local contact forums established by the Ministry of Higher Education and Science. We will also continue to participate in various international forums on waste management and storage.
In intermediate storage facilities, safety is largely based on continuous human monitoring of the condition of the waste containers.
In a final repository, safety is based on a number of passive physical and chemical barriers (containers, filler material, building and geology) that collectively inhibit and delay emissions.
There have been previous considerations of trying to export all of Denmark's radioactive waste. This idea has now been abandoned - cf. a note prepared by the Ministry of Health and Prevention in March 2015.
Efforts to find an export option or other international solution now focus on 233 kg of "special waste" (mainly smaller pieces of spent fuel used for materials research).
DD's Director is Vice-President of the So-Called ERDO Association (European Repository Development Organisation – see brochure ) which was founded in 2021. It highlights the possibilities and limitations of a multinational disposal of mainly long-lived radioactive waste (such as our "special waste") and common solutions for the prior treatment of waste. The forerunner of the association was the ERDO working group which DD joined as an active member in 2012.
In many areas, Danish Decommissioning is exchanging experience with other countries. This also applies to the search for a long-term solution for radioactive waste, both in terms of the technical aspects and the societal process of involving stakeholders.
We have assigned an independent, professional group with participants from Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands who advise us on Denmark's long-term solution.
Furthermore, e.g. the Netherlands has provided inspiration in relation to both the considerations of long-term intermediate storing and the process towards a final repository. See the report "From waste to disposal - time for accountability. Final disposal of radioactive waste in the Netherlands: challenges and perspectives”, published in 2017 by the Dutch advisory group of OPERA.
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