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In Germany spent fuel removed from reactors untill 2005 is reprocessed. In the 2002 phase-out law, reprocessing is forbidden from 2005 on.(*01) Interim storage of reprocessing waste takes place at Gorleben. Interim storage of spent fuel takes place at Ahaus and on site.
Underground storage facilities are (planned) at Asse, Schacht Konrad, Morsleben and Gorleben. There are many low- and intermediate level waste storage facilities, some undergound (Morsleben, Asse), some on site (Karlsruhe, Mitterteich, Juelich, Greisfswald).(*02) (West-) Germany once dumped low- and intermediate level nuclear waste in the Atlantic Ocean, in 1967.(*03)
The experience with storage of nuclear waste in salt domes are dramatically bad. In Germany two salt domes with radioactive waste threaten to collapse. The cost to isolate the salt domes as well as possible, amounts € 6.1 billion. The planned storage in Gorleben, on which € 1.5 billion has been spent, has been controversial and will not begin before 2035, at the earliest.
1. The Asse salt dome
The Research Mine Asse II salt dome is situated in the state of Lower Saxony. From 1967 till 1978 about 125,000 barrels (or drums) of low-level and 1,300 barrels of intermediate-level radioactive waste have been stored there, for research purposes. The low-level radioactive waste is located in 12 caverns at 725 and 750 meters depth, the medium-level waste in one storage room at 511 m depth.(*04) Around 1970 it was the intention to store also high-level waste in the salt dome.(*05) This plan was a key reason for the Dutch government to opt for high-level waste disposal in salt domes; there were even Dutch experiments in Asse.(*06) However; there never has been high-level waste stored at Asse.
According to an information brochure from the GSF in April 1973: „The mine buildings would remain stable in case of flooding”. “The shaft Asse II is currently completely dry and leakproof. The possibility of flooding through the shaft into the mine buildings is therefore excluded.” Now for over 20 years around 12,000 liters of water per day flows into the salt dome. The formed brine has affected the waste drums, resulting in leakage of radioactivity.(*07) In 2009 at 700 meters depth radioactive cesium-137 has been found and it become known that already in 1988 cesium, tritium, strontium-90 and cobalt-60 has been measured in salt brine.(*08)
So, although it as claimed in the early 1970s that disposal at Asse would be secure for thousands of years, it turns out there is water influx after 15 years and radioactivity is leaking after 40 years.
This is an even bigger problem because in late August 2009 it was disclosed that there is not 9.6 but an amount of 28 kilograms of plutonium present in (mostly the LLW) in Asse.(*09) Ten days earlier, on August 19, the former German Environment Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, said on the TV-program "Hartaberfair" of the public German television (Erstes Deutsches Fernsehen),(*10) that the safe closure of Asse will cost between €2 and €4 billion, the nuclear industry has paid €450,000 for the storage, the taxpayer will foot the rest of the bill. According to the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) on 2009, cracks have emerged because corridors and caverns remained open for a long time, which caused instability and therefore insecurity in the salt dome.(*11)
On 3 September 2009 the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) said that it is unclear how long it takes before the shafts are no longer accessible and that therefore urgent measures are needed.(*12) Merkel's government agrees with that. On 15 January 2010 the BfS announces that all barrels must be excavated.(*13) According to the German environment minister Norbert Röttgen (CDU) retrieving the low-level waste is expected to cost €3.7 billion,(*14) with a further €200 million for the disposal of the intermediate level waste.(*15)
In May 2010 Röttgen called Asse "an example of a collective political failure, a failure independent of political parties". He first wants to open at least two storage chambers to investigate the condition of the barrels.(*16)
In February 2011, Dr. Heinz Geiser, the manager of the Gesellschaft für Nuklearservice (GNS), stated that for the barrels that are recovered to the surface a building has to be realized with a storage capacity of 275,000 m3. To avoid additional transports he says the facility has to be built near Asse.(*17) End May it is published that Bfs has been granted a permit has to retrieve the radioactive waste.(*18)
The 100 page permit consists of 32 requirements BfS has to meet. If these requirements are met, exploration of two storage rooms with nuclear waste, rooms 7 and 12, can start. It will begin with drillings into these two storage rooms to get an impression of the state of the nuclear waste and the storage rooms itself. Cameras have to shed some light on the state of the barrels. Measuring equipment must give information about the air quality in those rooms, which include possibly a concentration of flammable or explosive gas, and high levels of at least tritium and radon are expected. BfS will then analyze the results of the measurements and observations. If this assessment is positive, then both chambers at 750 meters depth will be opened. The next step is the recovery of the waste drums.(*19)
But much more has to be done. For example: the retrieval of the nuclear waste must comply with the requirements of the Nuclear Energy Act. Therefore, the existing shaft has to be made safer. But there is still a risk that the salt dome is filled with water. Therefore, the storage mine has to be stabilized. If water flows in uncontrolled, emergency measures have to take into effect. These include methods to close the storage rooms and the shafts quickly and to spray magnesium chloride in the storage mine. With this, BfS wants to ensure that as little as possible radioactive substances can be released when the mine is filled with water.
Because the existing shaft is not suitable for the recovery because of the limited capacity, a new shaft has to be constructed to retrieve the barrels in a safer and faster way to the surface.(*20)
The excavated drums are temporarily stored above ground in a building, but there is still no decision on where that storage building has to come. Then the drums have to be stored somewhere permanently. But also the final destination is unknown.(*21) Although still far from clear what will happen exactly, all stakeholders are convinced that they are dealing with something unique. Retrieval of drums with nuclear waste from a geological repository has happened nowhere in the world.(*22) In December 2011 it became known that BfS-experts think that already within a year much water can come in the salt dome, which would make the retrieval of nuclear waste no longer feasible.(*23,24) This message caused much anxiety among the population and politicians. The state secretary of Environment, Ursula Heinen-Esser, declared on 8 February 2012 to stick to the excavation of all barrels,(*25) and added on 13 February 2012 that the excavation can take as much as forty years instead of the planned ten years.(*26)
Wolfram König, director of the BfS, while thinking that excavation of all drums is necessary, also said in early February 2012: "The history of Asse is a prime example of how a safe disposal of nuclear waste must not be carried out. In this textbook case is written that there is relied too much on technical solutions and there was paid too little attention to the limits of knowledge and the taking of responsibility."(*27)
2. The Morsleben salt dome
The (former East-) German salt dome Morsleben is a final disposal mine for low and medium level radioactive waste. The intention is to fill and close the salt dome. That will costs €2.2 billion public money.(*28) In the mine in Saxony-Anhalt are stored 37,000 m3 of low and medium level waste and 6,700 used radiation sources.
In 2000, because the salt dome threatened to be filled with water and to collapse, the German government stopped with the disposal in Morsleben. In March 2003, it was decided to fill as soon as possible 670,000 m3 of storage room of the salt dome with a mixture of salt, coal ash,
cement and water. This mixture is called salt concrete. In order to cover the radioactive waste safely forever from environmental influences, a total of 4 million cubic meters must be filled. The BfS estimates that, when a license is obtained, a period of 15 years is required for filling and final closure of the salt dome. On 27 August 2009 it was found that thousands of tons of salt can fall down from the ceiling of storage rooms.(*29)
3. The Gorleben salt dome
The most important salt dome in Germany is the one in Gorleben. Since 1977 research takes place in and around the salt dome, with total costs (in 2008) of €1.5 billion.(*30) It remains unclear, however, why Gorleben has been chosen on the first place: on 30 January 2010 it was announced that Gorleben initially was not found on the list of possible salt domes.(*31) As a large number of reports from the 1970s are now public, it is possible to try to reconstruct the decision-making process. In a May 2010 study of the historian Anselm Tiggemann it is revealed that although Gorleben was on top of a 1975/6 list of 20 possible locations. In 1976, the choice fell however, on the salt domes Wahn, Lutterloh and Lichtenhorst. After much opposition against research at these locations the choice fell on Gorleben, but without any collection of data to compare Gorleben with other salt domes. That feeds, according to Tiggeman, the idea that political motives have played a role.(*32) On 10 June 2010, in an advice to the Parliament, Jürgen Kreusch wrote(*33) that little was known about Gorleben in 1977, and it is hard to understand why the choice fell on Gorleben.
Gorleben is the world's model for storage in salt domes. But already in 1977, in a large-scale study, it was discovered that the salt dome is in contact with groundwater. And the German geologists Detlef Appel and Jürgen Kreusch demonstrate in their November 2006 report that the covering layer above the salt in an area of 7.5 square kilometers is missing.(*34) With that the dome doesn’t meet a central requirement for suitability.
At least since 26 August 2009, the then German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel thinks the salt dome is unsuitable for storage of radioactive waste, because of safety reasons.(*35) Those risks were already known 25 years ago, but research reports about that have not been published until recently. Besides all this, treaties with landowners, including the land where the salt dome lies, expire in 2015. According to the Mining Act, the construction of the disposal mine has to stop then.
In the 26 October 2009 CDU-CSU-FDP coalition agreement, the new government declared that it want to lift the year 2000 moratorium for further research. It states the research must be transparent and not anticipate a specific result. Also, the region must be compensated for the fact that the disposal is of national importance.(*36)
In December 2011 the Federal Government and the governments of the states decided that a comparative study into final disposal sites should take place and legislation should be made in 2012. According to the agreement a number of locations have to be selected in 2014, where research will be done until late 2019 leading to a final selection. From 2019 on underground research will take place, followed by authorization and commissioning from 2035.(*37)
Then a debate emerged about whether Gorleben still qualifies as a repository.(*38) Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen (CDU) is sticking to Gorleben and in a March 1, 2012 meeting of Federal and state environment ministers no agreement could be reached on this. But the ministers decided that attention should be given to education of the population at the possible disposal sites: information centers will be opened and discussion meetings with the population will be held.(*39) The local and regional groups are disagreeing and claim there are already more than enough arguments to remove Gorleben from the list.(*40)
Then, on March 2012, the government decided to stop research at Gorleben for a number of years and first investigate other locations.(*41) For the Greens, the Social Democrats and even part of the Christian Democrats, this decision is not enough: they want a 'blank map” to start with: Gorleben should be abandoned as disposal site.
Nr. of reactors
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PURAM, the Public Agency for Radioactive Waste Management, is a 100% state owned company responsible for the management of radioactive waste, and was established on 2 June 1998 by the Hungarian Atomic Energy Authority.(*01)
The strategy on low and intermediate level waste disposal is burying in cemented form in steel drums in a shallow-ground disposal site, maintained for 600 years. Since 1986, ILW/LLW from the Paks nuclear power station has been stored at Paks, due to public opposition to its continued burial at the existing disposal site at Puspokszilagy. Public opposition also prevented disposal of Paks-generated waste at the alternative site at Ofalu. Until this situation is resolved, the waste is stored on site at Paks.(*02) In October 2008, a final surface storage facility was inaugerated at Bataapati and construction begun on underground disposal vaults. Bataapati, was selected from some 300 potential locations after a 15-year selection and development process. Final approval was given by parliament in 2005.(*03) The construction of the underground caverns has not been finished, but some low-level waste is stored on surface facilities.(04)
Final geological disposal
Awaiting a final disposal facility spent fuel is stored on site at the ISFSF (Interim Spent Fuel Storage Facility) for a period of 50 years.(*05)
The exploration program to find a final disposal repository for high level wastes was launched at the end of 1993, with the investigation of the Boda region. Although this program outlined long-term ideas, it mainly focused on the in-situ site investigations carried out by the Mecsek Ore Mining Company in the area of the Boda Claystone Formation at 1100 m depth (accessible from the former uranium mine) during 1996-98. The program was limited to three years because of the closure of the mine in 1998; the reason for this was that the existing infrastructure of the mine could be economically utilised only during this time period.(*06) It was stated in the final report, that there was no condition which could be used as argument against the disposal of high level wastes in the Boday claystone formations. PURAM launched a countrywide geological screening program in 2000, and it was concluded that the Boda Aleurolit Formation had proven to be the most promising host rock for the high level waste repository. But due to financial restraints most of the research stopped in the years after. A revised schedules foresees in developing criteria for site selection un till 2015; completion of safety assessments (2030); construction of an underground lab (in 2038) and must result in commissioning of a geological repository in 2064.(*07)
Nr. of reactors
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% of total electricity
Nr. of reactors
The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was established in 1948 under the Atomic Energy Act as a policy body. Then in 1954 the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) was set up to encompass research, technology development and commercial reactor operation. The current Atomic Energy Act is from 1962, and it permits only government-owned enterprises to be involved in nuclear power.(*01)
In the context of India's nuclear fuel cycle, spent fuel is not considered waste but a resource. The spent fuel is temporarily stored on site, before transported for reprocessing. A three-step strategy for high-level waste has been established: immobilization, interim retrievable storage of conditioned waste and disposal in deep geological formations. According to the national policy, each nuclear facility has its own near-surface disposal facility for low and intermediate-level waste. Currently there are seven NSDFs in operation.(*02)
Radioactive wastes from the nuclear reactors and reprocessing plants are treated and stored at each site. Waste immobilization (vitrification) plants are in operation at Tarapur and Trombay and another is being constructed at Kalpakkam. The Tarapur facility consists of an underground hydraulic vault, which in turn houses two more vaults, which can store about 1700 casks for 20-30 years before they are planned to be transported to a deep geological repository.(*03)
Research on final disposal of high-level and long-lived wastes in a geological repository is in progress at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) at Trombay.(*04)
Amid concerns over waste management at the proposed nuclear power plant at Jaitapur in Maharashtra, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh in January 2011 said it was not an immediate problem for India and lamented a lack of balanced environmental approach towards nuclear energy. "This discussion has come at a time when there had been a lot of concern about Jaitapur. A lot of concern has been raised about waste management...today, we don't have a waste management problem. We will have it by the year 2020-2030," Ramesh said.(*05)
A program for development of a geological repository for vitrified high level long lived wastes is being pursued actively, involving In situ experiments, site selection, characterization and laboratory investigations. For assessment of the rock mass response to thermal load from disposed waste overpack, an experiment of 8-years duration was carried out at a depth of 1000 m in an abandoned section of Kolar Gold mine.(*06)
The Department of Atomic Energy will set up an underground laboratory in one of its uranium mines to study qualities of the rock at the mine bottom to decide whether it can be used to store nuclear waste. "We are looking for a rock formation that is geologically stable, totally impervious and without any fissures," Atomic Energy Commission chairman Srikumar Banerjee told reporters in Delhi.(*07)
Over the next five years, scientists are going to study a set of physical and geological parameters required for setting up the deep geological disposal facility before zeroing in on its location. The options vary from underground storage in rocky central India to plains where the storage may be housed inside layers of clay. The proposed repository will have large chambers with adequate shielding where nuclear waste from all over the country will be transported periodically. There would be also automatic heat management and radioactivity monitoring.(*08) There is no planned date for a final repository coming into operation.
*01- International Panel on Fissile Materials, Managing spent fuel from nuclear power reactors, 2011, p.43
*02- Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Nuclear Waste Repository Case Studies: Germany, Michael Sailer, 29 August 2008
*03- IAEA: Inventory of radioactive waste disposals at sea, Tecdoc-1105, August 1999, p.34
*04- Nuclear Heritage: Information about the Research Mine Asse II, late 2008
*05- Ipsen, Kost, Weichler: Analyse der Nutzungsgeschichte und der Planungs- und Beteiligungsformen der Schachtanlage Asse II, University of Kassel, Germany, March 2010 p.17
*06- NRC Handelsblad, 'Opslag kernafval in zoutlagen kan heel goed', April 5, 1984.
*07- Shaft ASSE II – a pilot project for nuclear waste storage in a mine shaft / the research mine for nuclear waste storage, Chronology 1.11.2007
*08- Bundnis90/Die Grünen: Asse-Chronik –Vom Umgang mit Atommüll in Niedersachsen, Hannover, June 2009.
09- BMU (Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety): Mehr Plutonium in Asse als bislang angenommen, Press release 281/09, 29 August 2009
*10- Erstes Deutsche Fernsehen, Hartaberfair, 19 August 2009
*11- Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz, Endlager Asse: ein Überblick, August 2009
*12- Bundesamtes für Strahlenschutz: Wie soll die Asse stillgelegt werden?, Press release 29/09, 3 September 2009
*13- Bundesamtes für Strahlenschutz : BfS stellt Ergebnis des Optionenvergleichs zur Schließung der Asse vor, Press release 01/10, 15. January 2010:
*14- Frankfurter Rundschau: Milliardengrab Asse, 29 January 2010
*15- Umwelt-Panaroma: Stromkonzerne sollen offenbar für Asse-Sanierung zahlen, 6 February 2010
*16- Asse Einblicke: Niemand weiss, wann das erste Fass geborgen wird, 03/2010, May 2010, p4.
*17- Newsclick, Lager für Asse-II Müll wird grosser, 23 februari 2011
*Ge18- Asse Einblicke, Gemeinsam tragen wir verantwortung, nr. 13, May 2011, p 1
*19- Asse Einblicke, Auf dem Prüfstand, nr. 13, May 2011, p 1.
*20- Asse Einblicke, nr. 13, May 2011, p 2.
*21- Asse Einblicke, nr. 13, May 2011, p 2.
*22- Asse Einblicke, nr. 13, May 2011, p 1.
*23- Handelsblatt: Atommüllager Asse, Opposition warnt vor Umweltdisaster, 23 December 2011
*24- ZDF Heute, Bleibt der Atommüll doch im Asse-Schacht?, 23 December 2011
*25- Deutsche Bundestag: Bundesregierung: Noch kein Zeitplan für Rückholung des Atommülls aus der Asse möglich, 8 February 2012.
*26- Strom Magazin: Rückholung von Atommüll könnte 40 Jahre dauern, 13 February 2012
*27- Asse Einblicke: „Jeder muss für sein Tun geradestehen“, nr. 16, February 2012, p.1
*28- Deutsche Bundestag; Antwort auf eine Kleine Anfrage der Linksfraktion (16/9935), (answer on parliamentary questions) Bundestag, hib-Meldung, 2008_227/01, 8 August 2008
*29- Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz, BfS trifft Vorsorge gegen möglichen Löserfall in Morsleben” press release, 27 augustus 2009.
*30- Deutsche Bundestag; Antwort auf eine Kleine Anfrage der Linksfraktion (16/9935),(answer on parliamentary questions) Bundestag, hib-Meldung, 2008_227/01, 8 August 2008
*31- Elbe Jeetzel Zeitung: Gorleben per Hand Nachgereicht, 30 January 2010.
*32- Anselm Tiggemann, Gorleben als Entsorgungs- und Endlagerstandort, study commissioned by Lower Saxony ministry for Environment and Climate Protection, May 2010
*33- Jürgen Kreusch, Ausarbeitung für den 1. Untersuchungsausschuss der 17. Wahlperiode (Gorleben-Ausschuss), Fragen und Antworten in Zusammenhang mit der Festlegung auf den Standort Gorleben und der Begründung zur untertägigen Erkundung (1979 – 1983), Hannover, 10. June 2010
*34- Detlef Appel en Jürgen Kreusch, Das Mehrbarrierensystem bei der Endlagerung radioaktiver Abfälle. Warum der Salzstock Gorleben nicht als Endlager geeignet ist, 14 November 2006
*35- ZDF, Heute Nachrichten, 26 augustus 2009.
*36- CDU, CSU, FDP: Koalitionsvertrag zwischen CDU, CSU und FPD, 26 October 2009, p.21
*37- BMU: Bund und Länder einigen sich auf Endlager-Fahrplan, 15 December 2011
*38- ContrAtom: Ein Jahr Gorleben-Epilog, 12 February 2012
*39- Dadp, Suche nach Atommüllendlager weiter offen, 1 March 2012
*40- Bürgerinitiative Lüchow-Dannenberg: Gorleben-gegner fordern Bau- und Erkundigungsstopp und den Abbruch der vorlaufigen Sicherheitsanalyse Gorleben ein, 9 February 2012
*41-Süddeutsche Zeitung, Debatte um Atom-Endlagerstandorte; Bund will Gorleben einmotten, 23 March 2012
*01- OECD: Radioactive waste management and decommissioning in Hungary, 2009
*02- IAEA: Country Profile; Hungary, NEWMDB reports
*03- WNN - Hungary inaugurates permanent waste repository, 9 October 2008
*04- PURAM: The 11th medium and long-term plan of Puram, May 2011, p.8
*05- PURAM, May 2011, p.12
*06- Republic of Hungary: Second Report prepared in the framework of the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, 2005, p.13
*07- PURAM, May 2011, p. 35-38
*01- World Nuclear Association: Nuclear Power in India, March 2012
*02- Upasana Choudhry: Half life, Radioactive waste in India, Heinrich Boell Stiftung, March 2009
*03- Deccan Herald: India keen on having nuclear waste repository, 14 February 2012
*04- World Nuclear Association, March 2012
*05- The Times of India, Nuclear waste not an immediate problem for India: Ramesh, 3 January 2011
*06- Bhabha Atomic Research Centre: BARC Highlights: Nuclear fuel cycle, 2007, ch.17
*07- Daily News and Analysis India, India scouting for sites to store nuclear waste, 14 February 2012
*08- Deccan Herald, 14 February 2012