Radioactive waste

The "Radioactive Waste" (RW) fact sheet reports on the production and storage of RW by waste typology, in order to protect workers, the general public and the environment from the dangers arising from ionising radiation.

According to Decree-Law No 156/2013, radioactive waste is "radioactive material in gaseous, liquid or solid form, regardless of its origin, whose subsequent use is not provided for or considered by the Government or person, natural or legal, whose decision is accepted by the State and which are regulated as radioactive waste by the competent regulatory authority under the scope of the legislative and regulatory framework in force."

With the entry into force of Decree-Law No. 108/2018, on April 2, 2019, the Portuguese Environment Agency succeeded in the competences and attributions of the Regulatory Commission for the Safety of Nuclear Facilities, taking the role of competent authority for the national regulatory body for the safe management of radioactive waste.

The "National Program for the Management of Spent Fuel and Radioactive Waste" (PNGCIRR), states that radioactive waste is produced in Portugal in several areas of activity, such as health, industry, research and education. Examples of RW include sealed sources (sources whose structure prevents, under normal circumstances of use, any dispersion of radioactive substances into the environment), brachytherapy "seeds" (small sealed radioactive sources used in permanent implants for the treatment of prostate cancer), ionic smoke detectors (fire detection devices), lightning rods, etc.

In Portugal, radioactive waste can be legally classified as:

  • Radioactive waste exempt from regulatory control;
  • Radioactive waste excluded from regulatory control and, therefore, legally considered non-radioactive;
  • Waste classified as radioactive waste subject to regulatory control.

Concerning waste classified as radioactive waste subject to regulatory control, it can be technically subdivided into the following categories:

  • Very Short Half-Life Waste (VSLW);
  • Very Low Level Waste (VLLW);
  • Low Level Waste (LLW);
  • Intermediate Level Waste (ILW);
  • High Level Waste (HLW).

Very short half-life waste (VSLW) is usually stored by the producer for subsequent authorized discharge as exempt waste. Also according to the PNGCIRR, given the typology of existing installations, it is not foreseeable that any high level radioactive waste may be managed in Portugal. In view of this national reality and taking into account the RW inventory, it can be considered that the existing RW in Portugal is almost all very low level, low level and intermediate level.

Although it is currently not possible to measure the production of RW per sector, since the information is not systematised, it is, however, possible to present the data regarding RW sent to elimination, by type.

Given the nature of the RW produced in Portugal, the PNGCIRR follows a graded approach that is essentially based on the nature of the risks associated with the existing RW that is expected to be produced. The PNGCIRR also supports a policy that guarantees a high level of safety in the protection of the general public and of the environment against the risks produced by ionising radiation, minimising unnecessary burdens for future generations.

The current PNGCIRR is under review, and an updated version is expected to be published during 2021.

This fact sheet concerns mainland Portugal, the Autonomous Regions of Madeira and Azores and shall be updated whenever new data is made available.

Objectives and targets: 
  • Reduce RW production;
  • Reduce the volume of RW stored;
  • Reduce the burden to be imposed on future generations with RW.
Progress analysis:

The most common radioactive waste consists mainly of sealed out-of-use sources, radioactive lightning rods, ionic smoke detectors, brachytherapy seeds and technetium generators (used in nuclear medicine for medical diagnosis imaging).

Last update: 
Monday, 2 August, 2021