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Introducing the concept of final disposal

  • A repository is a location for the storage of harmful substances which is safe, unlimited in time and maintenance-free.
  • In Germany, radioactive waste intended for disposal is divided into heat-generating radioactive waste and waste with negligible heat generation.
  • Supervision under nuclear legislation of existing repository- and decommissioning projects are combined in one authority, the BfE. Henceforth, the BfE also regulates and supervises the search for a site for a repository for high-level radioactive waste.
  • On 25 April 2017, the operative tasks of searching for a site, the construction and operation of the repositories and of the Asse II mine as well as the Gorleben mine, were transferred to the Federal Company for Radioactive Waste Disposal (Bundesgesellschaft für Endlagerung mbH, BGE).

Map depicting the Asse, Morsleben and Konrad Map depicting the Asse, Morsleben and KonradMap depicting the Asse, Morsleben and Konrad

A repository is a location to store harmful substances which is safe, unlimited in time and maintenance-free. On account of the associated hazards, radioactive waste must be disposed of safely over thousands of years. People use radioactive materials in manifold ways such as power generation, in medicine and in the industry. This results in the generation of radioactive waste.

Radioactive waste

In Germany, radioactive waste intended for disposal is divided into heat-generating radioactive waste and waste with negligible heat generation.

  • The group of heat-generating waste comprises mainly spent fuel elements and liquid high-level radioactive waste (fission product solutions) from the reprocessing of spent fuel elements. This liquid waste is concentrated and melted into glass blocks (vitrified waste canisters).
  • Among the waste with negligible heat generation is other primary waste, e.g. disused tools and plant components, cleaning cloths, used filters or residues from waste water treatment.

Radioactive waste origin in Germany

The largest part of radioactive residues and radioactive waste produced in Germany arises:

  • In connection with energy generation in nuclear power plants,
  • Through the decommissioning and dismantling of nuclear facilities.
  • In research and development,
  • In industry and medicine.

With less than 0.5 percent by volume, the amount of waste arising in the medical field is negligible.

The radioactive waste originating from the reprocessing of spent fuel elements from German nuclear power plants in France and the UK is returned to Germany as agreed in the relevant contracts and needs to be disposed of. Other waste includes spent fuel elements which will be disposed of directly, i.e. without reprocessing, and which are considered as high-level radioactive waste.

Repositories and repository projects

The operation, supervision and licensing of repositories as well as the search for a repository site are federal tasks. Supervision under nuclear legislation of existing repository- and decommissioning projects are combined in one authority, the Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management (BfE). Henceforth, the BfE also regulates and supervises the search for a site for a repository for high-level radioactive waste.

At present, the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) is responsible for the construction, operation and decommissioning of radioactive waste repositories. According to law, the operative tasks of searching for a site, the construction and operation of the repositories as well as of the Asse II mine and the Gorleben mine, are to be transferred to a federally owned company, the Bundesgesellschaft für Endlagerung (BGE mbH)(Federal Company for Radioactive Waste Disposal). BGE mbH is currently in its formation stages. Once it has been ensured that the company is able to act, the corresponding tasks will be transferred from the BfS to the BGE mbH.

On 25 April 2017, the operator responsibilities for

were transferred from the BfS to the BGE.

While in Morsleben and Asse mine radioactive wastes have already been stored (emplacement in the Asse mine from 1967 to 1978; emplacement in Morsleben from 1971 to 1991 and from 1994 to 1998), the exploratory work at the Gorleben site was terminated on 27 July 2013 when the Repository Site Selection Act entered into force. Konrad, on the other hand, is currently being converted to a repository and is the only repository so far that has been licensed under nuclear law. For the Morsleben repository, the permanent operating licence according to §57a AtG of 22 April 1986 continues to be effective as fictitious plan-approval decision.

Konrad

Konrad repository

grafische Darstellung der Konrad-Gebäude grafische Darstellung der Konrad-Gebäude

The Konrad mine, an abandoned iron ore mine located in the area of the city of Salzgitter is currently being converted to a repository for radioactive waste with negligible heat generation. About 90 per cent of the radioactive waste accruing in Germany is in this category; it does only contain about 0.1 per cent of the total radioactivity of all waste, though.

At the beginning of 2007, a definitive plan-approval decision (licence) was granted for the construction and operation of the repository. Thus, the Konrad repository is the first facility for radioactive waste management in Germany, for which a nuclear plan-approval procedure was conducted prior to taking it into operation. The former iron ore mine is currently being converted to a repository.

According to the plan-approval decision, the Konrad repository is permitted to take up max. 303,000 cubic metres of radioactive waste with negligible heat generation.

Information about the Konrad repository in the Internet

Konrad repository (in German only)

Morsleben

Morsleben repository

Graphical view Morsleben-Buildings Graphical view Morsleben-Buildings

The Morsleben repository in Saxony-Anhalt is an over 100-year-old potash and rock salt mine. In World War II the mine served as underground arms production facility and concentration camp subcamp, later on to breed chicken and store toxic waste.

Between 1971 and 1991 and from 1994 to 1998, 36,754 cubic metres of low-level and intermediate-level radioactive waste was disposed of. Furthermore, small amounts of radioactive waste were stored intermediately.

The proper and long-term safe enclosure of the waste is still outstanding. This must take into consideration the safety aspects occurring in an ageing mine and must delay and limit the release of the radionuclides contained in the waste to the extent that all protection goals are achieved.

The Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) applied for the decommissioning of the Morsleben repository under nuclear law. The plan-approval procedure is currently underway.

Information about the Morsleben repository in the Internet

Morsleben repository for radioactive waste

Asse II

The Asse II mine

Figure of the Asse-buildings Figure of the Asse-buildings

The Asse II salt mine near Wolfenbüttel is an approximately 100-year-old potash and salt mine. Between 1965 and 1995, Helmholtz Zentrum München used the mine on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Research to test the handling and storage of radioactive waste in a repository. Between 1967 and 1978, 46,950 cubic metres of radioactive waste in 125,787 drums were emplaced.

Today, the Asse mine faces two major problems: On the one hand, saline solutions enter the mine, on the other hand the stability of the mine openings is endangered.

In September 2008, the ministries involved agreed to treat the Asse mine as a repository in future. At the beginning of 2009, the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) took over operatorship for the Asse II mine from Helmholtz Zentrum München. On 25 April 2017, the operator responsibilities were transferred from the BfS to the BGE.

The task of BfS is to decommission the Asse mine immediately. Decommissioning is to take place once the radioactive waste has been retrieved from the facility.

Information about the Asse II mine in the Internet

Schachtanlage Asse II

State of 2017.04.25

© Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management