Behind Scenes of COVRA, Single Radioactive Waste Storage Facility in the Netherlands

On 22 March 2017, a technical visit to the Central Organization for Radioactive Waste (COVRA) was held near the city of Middelburg (the Kingdom of the Netherlands). Employees of the storage facility conducted an excursion at the most important facilities at the site, told about the assignment of each of them and shared plans for the future. Kateryna Stavnichuk from editorial board took part in the technical visit.

COVRA is the only company in the Netherlands dealing with radioactive waste processing and long-term storage. The territory of the storage facility occupies about 20 hectares, six radioactive waste management facilities, administration building and information center are located here.

HABOR high-level radioactive waste storage facility is currently the most advanced of six radioactive waste management facilities. The building is of acid orange color. The most hazardous radioactive waste is stored here: nuclear fuel components used at research reactors; waste generated resulting from production of medical isotopes; vitrified radioactive waste from the research reactors in Petten and Delft as well as Borsele, the only nuclear power plant in the Netherlands. The Dutch send spent nuclear fuel from the nuclear power plant for processing to France. The components that can be used in the future and vitrified radioactive waste are transported back to the Netherlands.

The walls and roof of HABOR are made of extra strong reinforced concrete. Hurricanes, explosions, earthquakes, floods, aircraft crash are not hazardous for the storage facility. A total sum of 125,000,000 euros was spent for construction of the facility, the construction was fully financed by high-level radioactive waste producers. Thus, they reserved places for their own radioactive waste in the storage facility.

COVRA staff includes 60 employees, five of them operate HABOR.

Four treatment plants for low- and intermediate –level waste are also located on COVRA’s territory. About 33 thousand containers located in rows at each storage facility are currently stored here. Containers include irradiated gloves, laboratory glassware, clothing, syringes, sealed radiation sources, plastic packaging, pipes, pumps, contaminated scrap metal, liquids, filters, etc.

COVRA’s employees conducted an excursion to one of such facilities in the framework of this technical tour. The storage facility includes not only radioactive waste packages, there are also paintings-humoresques and large-scale historical tapestries on the walls.

“The atmosphere and feelings of people are important for us. Employees should feel themselves not only comfortable, but also safe. Therefore, almost every COVRA facility is decorated by paintings, banners and tapestries. Images with the nature prevail since they have a calming effect”, Hans Kodi, COVRA Vice Chairman, says.

There is one more radioactive waste treatment plant on COVRA territory – future storage facility for depleted uranium. The design of this building was developed by William Verstraten, famous Dutch artist whose plans are to paint the facility in bright blue and set at one of the external walls the largest sundial in Europe. The dial on the walls of the storage facility will represent the importance of time for radioactive waste management. After all, the final decision on radioactive waste management for a long-term period is still pending.

“A fundamental research of the site for construction of geological repository in the future is under way in the Netherlands”, Eric van Leeuwen, COVRA public relations expert, commented. “Nevertheless, we do not have currently a more detailed information on where, when and how the repository will be constructed”.

In general, the impression after COVRA visiting is positive. The territory includes an open area with mini-park, which everyone can visit during working hours. Many flowers are planted here, there are several water bodies where wild geese live. Everything is simple, reliable and safe. The whole territory where people work is free of radioactive contamination.

More pictures here. editorial board