In 1957 the Euratom Treaty empowered the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) to contribute to the establishment and growth of nuclear power related industries, through the creation of the Joint Research Centres within the European Commission (Article 8 of the Treaty). In particular, the Commission is responsible of the management of nuclear facilities throughout their life, from design to decommissioning. In the early 1960s site agreements were signed between the Community and four Member States: Belgium (Geel), Germany (Karlsruhe), Italy (Ispra) and the Netherlands (Petten). Some of these sites had already nuclear installations, to which numerous new facilities were added to enable the undertaking of a variety of scientific and technological activities employing radioactive material.
The nuclear research conducted by the JRC used various installations which, at the Ispra Site, comprise experimental reactors, hot-cells, radiochemical facilities and a variety of radioactive waste management plants. Since the 1980s, the JRC evolving mission has progressively reduced the need for nuclear R&D installations at the Ispra Site, so that most of them are now shutdown and in a state of safe conservation. The legislation requires JRC-Ispra to decommission these facilities, and manage the associated waste, together with any existing radioactive wastes and nuclear materials, activities which are collectively known as "historical liabilities".
The European Commission is committed to protect the general public and the environment from any undue radiological hazard and to reduce long-term expenditures on its nuclear facilities. To accomplish this task, at the Ispra Site appropriate waste management plant must be procured or refurbished, and the site's inventory of nuclear materials reduced as much as possible. Only then the shutdown facilities can be decommissioned and the related waste processed and stored, prior to its transfer to a national repository. Finally, attention is given to the so-called "future liabilities", activities which involve decommissioning nuclear installations still in use, including waste management infrastructure, and managing the resulting waste. The D&WM Programme of the Ispra Site aims at eliminating these historical and future liabilities during the next two decades.