Ad hoc Expert Group on the Economics of the Back End of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle
The Hague treatment plant; Photo: ORANO


There is much public discussion about the costs and feasibility of managing radioactive waste from nuclear facilities, with special concerns raised over the lack of experience in final disposal of high-level waste. In some countries, very large estimates are given for these costs, ranging up to several tens of billions of dollars. When these higher estimates are cited, however, they are often due to the costs of clean-up and waste disposal from military nuclear facilities without being specified as such.

A number of studies in NEA member countries examine the costs of disposal of spent fuel and high-level waste. The results of these studies reflect uncertainty resulting from possible delays in implementing applicable programmes and the regulatory requirements that will apply. Another factor that adds complexity is the state of knowledge on the treatment or conditioning options for legacy wastes. Furthermore, the planned profile of expenditures on waste management and disposal over time will be important in determining the overall costs and funding requirements.

Estimates of the eventual costs of radioactive waste management and disposal are often used to assess the adequacy of funds that are set aside to meet them. Different countries have put in place varying legal and regulatory arrangements setting out who is responsible for waste management and disposal, how funds are to be accumulated and how these funds are to be managed in the interim period of at least several decades. Most financial liabilities for long-term waste management and disposal are covered by such arrangements. However, the management of legacy waste in some countries (usually from early nuclear development) is partly or wholly unfunded.


The overall aim of this expert group was to produce a definitive study across NEA member countries of the costs of management and disposal of radioactive waste from the nuclear fuel cycle on a common basis. The study had two main objectives. 

  • Review the status of management of radioactive waste in NEA member countries and the available knowledge on the costs and proposals for final disposal of the full range of radioactive waste. The study built on the Radioactive Waste in Perspective report published in 2010 and extended this analysis to consider the costs associated with each type of waste and whether these wastes are included in the cost of electricity generation (and therefore nominally pre-paid) or remain as funded or unfunded liabilities for governments.
  • Consider the knowledge of the uncertainties arising from a) changes in cost estimates from reprocessing spent fuel, b) lack of agreement on encapsulation options for legacy wastes, and c) delays in the implementation of the disposal options.
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