Radiation Protection

Radioactive Waste Safety

Radioactive waste containers

Radioactivity is very much a part of today’s world. Radioactive materials are used beneficially in areas such as health, agriculture, industry, science, protection of the environment, and for our personal safety (smoke detectors for instance). The flipside is that many of these radioactive materials will ultimately end up as waste once their useful life is over.

What is Radioactive Waste?

Radioactive waste is material that contains radionuclides and has no foreseeable further use.

For instance, many countries do not regard unprocessed spent nuclear fuel as 'waste' because of its future potential use as fuel for electricity production in next-generation nuclear reactors.

Waste includes liquid and gaseous effluents as well as solid materials.

What do we do with it?

Radioactive waste must be managed in order to isolate it from people and the environment ("safety"). Radioactive waste must also be managed in a way that prevents it from being accessed by anybody with malicious intent ("security").

In many jurisdictions it is a regulatory requirement that, wherever possible, radioactive sources for which no further use is foreseen should be returned to the supplier, either for recycling or disposal.  However, this is not always possible.

The two ways in which radioactive waste are generally managed are "concentrate and contain" or "dilute and disperse", the former for mainly solid waste and the latter for most liquid and gaseous waste.

Cradle-to-Grave Management of Radioactive Waste

The processes of "cradle-to-grave" management of radioactive waste, from generation to disposal, include:

ARPANSA’s Role in Ensuring Radioactive Waste Safety in Australia

In Australia, radioactive waste safety is guided by a series of national codes and safety guides based on international best practice, including IAEA standards. These national codes and guidance documents are developed by ARPANSA and currently cover the areas of classification of radioactive waste, predisposal management, management of NORM, near-surface disposal of radioactive waste, and radioactive waste management in mining and mineral processing.  These codes and guidance form part of ARPANSA’s role in promoting national uniformity in radiation protection regulation across all jurisdictions.

ARPANSA is a scientific and independent regulatory agency of the Australian government, which regulates Commonwealth activities in radioactive waste management.  State and territory governments are independently responsible for radiation protection within their jurisdictions and regulate waste safety within their own jurisdiction.

International Best Practice

In response to the question “Where would I look for guidance on what you consider international best practice?  Is there a specific set of guidelines or something that the IAEA publishes?”, the CEO of ARPANSA, Dr Carl-Magnus Larsson has provided the response:

“I do not think that you are able to find best international practice in a particular place.  What you need to do is go and look in different places for the different aspects of the problem that you are studying and you will find what you can call best international practice for those different elements. I would particularly point perhaps to the Nuclear Energy Agency or the university in particular in relation to the safety assessment and also in relation to stakeholder involvement.  There is the forum for stakeholder involvement which is a very active group within the OECD NEA. By doing that and also comparing different national systems, national facilities, you can get an indication on what is best international practice. But you do not find it in a specific place.

The ambition of the Waste Safety Team is that in the area of radioactive waste safety, best international practice should be found in one place - Australia!



Image of IAEA meeting room
Chair’s Column – WASSC   Paper "Managing Radioactive Waste in Australia" (PDF 415kb)
(Reproduced from Issues)

Communication and Consultation

Consistent with Australian Government policy to embrace the Government 2.0 initiatives for improved engagement with stakeholders and the public, our aim is to eventually incorporate a facility here where you are able to contribute comments and engage in conversation on radioactive waste issues.

In the meantime, please provide us with any feedback or questions, and we’ll do our best to respond in timely fashion.

Current Projects of the ARPANSA Waste Safety Team

Important ARPANSA Links

Some Useful External Sites

 Useful Publications

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