The manufacturing of steel and pigments involves the generation of millions of kilos of slightly radioactive residues. In addition, more and more of these substances will continue to be generated in the rapidly growing sector of geothermal energy. These substances are currently disposed of as low-level radioactive waste. A study conducted by RIVM shows that for a part of these substances there is a perspective for reuse or recycling, which would lead to less waste. A number of radioactive residues are already being used safely as a substrate for roads. RIVM therefore recommends that the government draws up rules that allow for the safe reuse or recycling of more slightly radioactive substances. This will stimulate the circular economy.
Many slightly radioactive residues potentially suitable for reuse
The term radioactive waste immediately conjures up images of waste from nuclear power plants. However, there are many other processes that generate radioactive residues, such as the manufacturing of white pigment (including for the paint industry), steel, oil and gas or the dismantling of cyclotrons. Compared to the waste produced by nuclear power plants, the volume of residual substances is considerably larger. However, it only accounts for a very small part of overall radioactivity. These residues can potentially be made suitable for safe reuse or recycling, including as a substrate for roads or as an additive, for example, in concrete.
Opportunities of the circular economy
Whether this can be achieved in practice depends mainly on the costs, the relevant rules and regulations and social factors. The policies currently in place for the management of radioactive residues do not yet focus sufficiently on prevention and reuse. RIVM therefore recommends that policy should be fleshed out among other things.
In this study, RIVM has identified the various generators of radioactive residues and radioactive waste and which substances they disposed of between 2018 and 2020. The study also shows where these wastes ultimately end up. Finally, the report outlines a number of options to ensure that less of this type of waste is generated in the future.
This study was carried out by RIVM on behalf of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management following a European commitment requiring Member States to draw up a ‘National Programme for Radioactive Waste Management’.