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Tasks of the nuclear regulatory authority

The Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management (BfE) surveys the relevant operations under nuclear and radiation protection law in the Morsleben repository for radioactive waste (ERAM) located in Saxony-Anhalt, in the Konrad repository under construction located in Lower Saxony and in the Asse II mine, which is also located in Lower Saxony. Thus it is ensured that the repositories and the Asse mine are operated in compliance with the legal and technical requirements.

Among the authority's tasks are the surveillance of measures required for the construction, operation and decommissioning of these repositories and of the Asse II mine. Furthermore, the BfE surveys the radiological measurements in the facilities' vicinity and verifies the reliability of the operator's and executing companies' employees.

Surveillance of erection, operation, and decommissioning of repositoriesshow / hide

As a nuclear regulatory authority, the BfE is responsible for the surveillance of radioactive waste repositories in all phases including the erection, operation, and decommissioning of the repository. The legal background for this surveillance activity includes the Atomic Energy Act, the Radiation Protection Ordinance, the relating nuclear regulations and standards as well as the plan-approval decisions for the licensing of repositories.

Konrad repository Konrad repositoryKonrad repository

If a legally binding plan-approval decision (licence) exists, as it does for the Konrad repository, the task of the BfE focusses especially on compliance with the provisions set out in the plan-approval decision. These provisions, for example, provide for the examination of safety-relevant components, such as cranes or vehicles designed for the transport of casks for radioactive waste. To examine such components, the nuclear regulatory authority may consult with independent experts.

To effectively ensure the surveillance of repositories, the BfE has many powers which are necessary to clarify and evaluate special events and incidents such as accidents, apart from the routine monitoring to be carried out. For this purpose, the BfE has the following means at its disposal which have been regulated in §19 AtG:

  • the right to visit and inspect the facility at any time, which also applies to the experts consulted by the nuclear regulatory authority,
  • the right to demand the necessary information by the responsible persons or persons there employed,
  • issuing directives on the elimination of conditions that are not in compliance with the provisions of the Atomic Energy Act or, respectively, of the Radiation Protection Ordinance, or the provisions included in the licence for installations, and
  • issuing directives on safety precautions up to the temporary stop of operation in case of danger for life, health, or real assets.

Appointment of persons responsible according to Atomic Energy Actshow / hide

In future, the overall responsibility for the construction, operation and decommissioning of a repository or, respectively, the Asse II mine, is with the CEOs of the Federal Company for Radioactive Waste Disposal (Bundesgesellschaft für Endlagerung mbH, BGE). Since these do not extensively have the required expertise, one or several responsible persons must be appointed pursuant to the Atomic Energy Act § 9b paragraph 4 in combination with § 7 paragraph 1 number 1. These persons bear the responsibility for compliance with the duties resulting from the provisions of the Atomic Energy Act, the Radiation Protection Ordinance, and the licensing documents. These duties include

  • knowledge of safe repository operation,
  • dangers associated with operation as well as
  • the necessary protection measures.

According to the provisions of the Atomic Energy Act, appointing persons responsible is an absolute prerequisite for granting a plan-approval decision (licence) for the erection, operation, and decommissioning of a repository. Through a granted plan-approval decision, the operator is, thus, obliged to transfer the responsibility for the repository to one or several persons responsible according to nuclear law.

Only those persons can be appointed as persons responsible according to nuclear law who fulfil certain requirements: On the one hand, the person to be appointed must be reliable. It is legally determined what "reliable" means. On the other hand, the person must have special expertise. The necessary expertise is based on technical or scientific academic studies and other additional training in the fields of radiation protection and nuclear engineering. The regulatory authority examines if these requirements are complied with and only approves of an appointment if the examination has a positive outcome.

For the BfE, the person responsible according to nuclear law is the prior and first contact person in all issues concerning repository safety and compliance with licensing documents and legal provisions.

Apart from the person responsible according to nuclear law, also the person responsible according to the Federal Mining Law plays an important role regarding radioactive waste disposal in mines. This person is responsible for fulfilling the duties resulting from the Federal Mining Law, mine regulations, (in German only), and approved operating plans.

Surveillance and implementation of monitoring measurementsshow / hide

Every operator of a nuclear facility and, thus, also of a repository, is obliged to carry out monitoring measurements in the environment of the installation, which is legally based on the Directive on Emission and Immission Monitoring of Nuclear Facilities (REI). This aims at two purposes:

  • the evaluation of radiation exposure to man resulting from the discharge of radioactive substances via air and water and
  • the control of compliance with the maximum permissible activity discharges and the dose limit values.

The radioactive substances discharged from a repository into the environment via the exhaust air are monitored. Furthermore, especially air, precipitation, surface, drinking water, groundwater and soil, but also plant cover, the agricultural food chain (such as field crops and meat produce), and milk and dairy products are measured in the environment of a radioactive waste repository. The results are submitted to and examined by the nuclear regulatory authority.

Sectional view of a thermoluminescence detector card Sectional view of a thermoluminescence detector card)Thermoluminescence detector card (sectional view)

To achieve a high safety level, the environmental monitoring measures are performed in duplicate: By the operator of a repository and by an independent measuring institution commissioned by the nuclear regulatory authority. The measurement results are compiled by the BfE and are examined and compared.

Related link:

Environmental monitoring of the Asse II mine

Decision about release according to § 29 StrlSchVshow / hide

As in every household, substances accrue in a repository that need to be removed from the facility and disposed of like conventional waste. Among these are tyres, oils, and toilet waste. On account of the risk emanating from ionising radiation, special precautions have to be taken in a repository. Therefore, substances may only be taken from such a facility if they do not pose any hazard for man and environment.

For this issue, the legal regulations provide for a special procedure for nuclear installations: The so-called release procedure.

According to § 29 StrlSchV, radioactive substances and movable objects, buildings and ground areas which might have been activated (activation is a process through which a material is made radioactive by bombardment with neutrons, protons, or other particles) or contaminated, may only be used or removed as non-radioactive substances if the competent institution has released them previously. This cannot happen until the release levels fall below the levels laid down in the Radiation Protection Ordinance. For radioactive waste repositories and the Asse II mine, the nuclear regulatory authority is responsible for granting these releases.

Main collecting point of influent brine in the Asse II mine on the 658-m level Main collecting point of influent brine in the Asse II mine on the 658-m levelMain collecting point of influent brine in the Asse II mine

The release of substances is occurs frequently, especially in the operation of the Asse repository. To be able to remove the saline solutions flowing from the surrounding rock layers into the salt dome, it is necessary to grant release for the individual batches. For this purpose it must be proven by measurements that the influent solutions fall below the release values for the content of radionuclides (especially tritium). On this basis, the nuclear regulatory authority may grant the release and the solutions can be removed.

Implementation of modification proceduresshow / hide

During the erection and operation of a repository, modifications of the approved planning of the facility may become necessary. In that case a modification procedure needs to be carried out which varies with respect to the safety-related significance of the modification. If such issues are not or only limitedly affected, the nuclear regulatory authority examines the operator's application. In all other cases an application must be submitted to the licensing authority (Lower Saxony Ministry for Environment and Climate Protection or Ministry of Agriculture and Nature Conservation of Saxony-Anhalt) for a modification of the existing licences.

Implementation of inspections and consultancy of the operatorshow / hide

To ensure the best possible protection of man and environment, the BfE is in a constant technical exchange with the repository operator. To allow the BfE to take a far-sighted approach, dangerous situations can already be prevented in advance. The common aim of operator and nuclear regulatory authority is a lawful and safe operation of the repositories.

Periodic inspections are another important and essential part of surveillance activities. With this tool the nuclear regulatory authority can ensure that construction works and technical implementations are in compliance with the current licences and legal bases (such as a plan-approval decision) and that there are no impermissible deviations. Furthermore, the operational readiness of facilities, systems, and components is ensured and the general facility safety is evaluated in periodic inspections. For the Morsleben Repository for Radioactive Waste (ERAM), for example, it is prescribed that a total inspection of the facility be carried out every five years. This inspection is carried out by the operator and is monitored by the nuclear regulatory authority.

Issuing directivesshow / hide

To the extent to which the state of a repository does not comply with the legal requirements of the nuclear and radiation protection law or there is the risk that radioactive radiation may lead to negative effects for life, health, or real assets, the nuclear regulatory authority may issue directives on the basis of the provisions set out in § 19 paragraph 3 Atomic Energy Act. Thus, the BfE can urge the operator to take certain safety measures and even to temporarily stop operation. However, this will be the exception. Usually, the BfE gives its consent to a safety precaution proposed by the operator.

Examination of reliability of responsible persons and federal repository personnelshow / hide

On account of the hazard to man and environment posed by the handling of radioactive material, extensive safety precautions must be observed. Radioactive substances must neither be stolen nor released. For the protection against theft, sabotage, or terrorism, all persons who are safety-relevant with respect to the erection and operation of a repository and of the Asse II mine thus undergo a reliability check by the BfE.

The reliability check of the corresponding persons can comprise the following measures:

  • Identity verification
  • Request of information from the police authorities and from the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution
  • Request of information from the Federal Commissioner for the Documents of the GDR State Security Service to secure a full-time or unofficial collaboration at the GDR State Security Service
  • Request of information from the Central Register of Aliens or from the competent aliens office

If there is reason to doubt the reliability, the nuclear regulatory authority may request further information, for example from criminal courts or tax authorities.

Depending on the activity or responsibility of the persons to be checked, the reliability check measures are graded proportionally. A person with high responsibility will be checked more comprehensively accordingly.

The reliability check is only carried out with previous written consent of the persons to be checked. More details are regulated in the AtZüV (Atomrechtliche Zuverlässigkeitsprüfungsverordnung, Nuclear Reliability Check Ordinance).

State of 2018.08.17

© Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management