Unique visit – Flemish visitor centre Tabloo highlights radioactive waste

The Tabloo visitor centre in Dessel has a unique mission: to make people enthusiastic about radioactive waste. Through an exhibition and activities, the centre informs friends and foes alike to ensure that radioactive waste storage is done safely for the next three hundred years.

A radioactive waste repository will soon be built near Tabloo. Keeping this memory alive for 300 years is one of the most important missions of the visitor centre. Visitors can follow in scientists’ footsteps and get carried away through the world of radioactivity.

“The scenography of the expo makes abstract concepts more understandable. Everything is coordinated, appeals to its target audience and forms an overall experience.” That was the decision of the jury of the Henry van de Velde Award that Tabloo won this year. Flanders DC awards the prestigious prize annually to Flemish design that positively impacts society.

The experiential exhibition on radioactivity and radioactive waste management has already attracted the attention of secondary school students, the main target group. However, the subject has not escaped the Belgian federal government either.

On the advice of the National Agency for Radioactive Waste and Enriched Fissile Materials (ONDRAF/NIRAS), the King Baudouin Foundation is launching a public debate in 2023 to find out how this deep disposal can be put into practice. NIRAS is responsible for the short- and long-term management of all radioactive waste in Belgium.

Radioactive waste is similar to household and industrial waste and includes all substances, materials, equipment, demolished installations and protective clothing that are no longer used. As this waste contains substances that emit ionising radiation, damaging living tissues, it can harm the environment. Therefore, this waste must be disposed of until the radiation has reached an acceptable level.

Although nuclear power plants, in particular, deal with radioactive waste, several products are radioactive. Think of hypodermic needles in atomic medicine, food sterilisation by irradiation in the agricultural sector and welding inspections in the industry. Depending on the intensity of radiation and its lifetime, radioactive waste is divided into categories: low-, medium- and high-level waste and short- or long-lived waste.

About 82 per cent of the volume of radioactive waste is low-active. Hardly 5 per cent is a high-level waste. Yet this waste contains 97.5 per cent of the total activity of all waste categories combined. The rest is an intermediate-level waste. Depending on the waste’s radioactivity, it must be isolated from humans and the environment for hundreds or even hundreds of thousands to a million years.

Those wishing to delve further into the matter can visit the Tabloo visitor centre in Dessel.

Disclaimer: During the Christmas holidays, Belga is putting the spotlight on locations with exceptional collections under the heading ‘unique visit’.