German repository commission submits final report

05 July 2016

Following more than two years of work, a commission looking into the storage of Germany's high-level radioactive waste has today submitted its final report to the country's government. The report provides a recommended method for the disposal of the waste in a geologic repository.

In April 2013, Germany's federal environment ministry announced that a new site selection process would be launched for a repository to hold the country's radioactive waste under a compromise agreement between the federal and state governments and opposition parties.

A 32-member commission was established in May 2014 with the mandate to define a new site selection procedure for the repository. It was asked to develop the criteria, processes and decision bases to evaluate the site selection law and to make proposals for public participation and transparency.

According to the commission's final report, the site with "the best safety" is to be determined in a three-phase process and defined by federal law. The site selection should be accompanied by extensive public participation with bodies at regional, inter-regional and national level. The repository could be located in salt, clay or crystalline. The commission said the "controversial" Gorleben rock salt formation in Lower Saxony has not been excluded in its report.

Ralf Güldner, president of industry group the German Atomic Forum (Deutsches Atomforum, DAtF), said: "In addition to the process and criteria, the commission has also developed a comprehensive and extremely ambitious involvement process that should give citizens, particularly in affected regions, far-reaching opportunities for participation." He added, "A consistent and targeted approach is needed to arrive at a solution to this long-disputed issue.

"Despite some controversy, a considerable report has been prepared," Güldner said. "Unfortunately, in some parts of the commission, there has been a tendency to focus on the past. At times it appeared the old controversies were more important than the necessary conclusions for the design of the future. This has burdened the work and ensured that no procedure was consistently science-based on all issues."

An example of this, the DAtF said, is the commission's tentative setting of a uniform maximum temperature limit for waste containers within the repository. This, it claims, is against the scientific findings of the commission. Another example is newly introduced criteria for assessing the overburden above the rock zone. This, DAtF says, is "over-emphasized in its current form without a safety advantage".

He added: "It is now up to the legislative implementation of the commission's recommendations to realize the disposal of highly-radioactive waste in Germany with consideration for future generations."

Currently, German radioactive waste is placed in interim storage, with used fuel mostly stored at reactor sites. Most German used fuel is reprocessed overseas. Vitrified high-level wastes arising from reprocessing contracts signed up to 1989 is stored in surface facilities at Gorleben and Ahaus. Work began in 2007 on the conversion of a former iron ore mine at Konrad in Lower Saxony into a repository for low- and intermediate-level waste.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News