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Return of radioactive waste

  • Since 2005, no transports of German fuel elements have been carried out to reprocessing plants, this being no longer permitted since 1 July 2005. Until then, about 6,670 tons of heavy metal were taken to reprocessing plants.
  • There is still waste stored at the corresponding facilities abroad, waiting to be reprocessed. According to the existing contractual obligations, Germany is committed to take back the returned waste.
  • 21 casks from the UK and 5 casks from France are to be assigned to the on-site interim storage facilities Philippsburg (Baden Wurttemberg), Biblis (Hessen), Brokdorf (Schleswig-Holstein) and Isar (Bavaria).

Since 2005, no transports of German fuel elements have been carried out to reprocessing plants, this being no longer permitted since 1 July 2005. Until then, about 6,670 tons of heavy metal (uranium and fission products of the spent fuel elements) were taken to reprocessing plants.

5,379 tons were reprocessed by AREVA NC (formerly COGEMA) in France, 851 tons by Sellafield Ltd. (formerly BNFL) in the UK.   The residual amounts were either reprocessed at the Karlsruhe reprocessing plant (WAK) or taken to the following institutions abroad:

  • For reprocessing at Eurochemic in Mol (Belgium)
  • For storage into the Central Interim Storage Facility for Spent Fuel Elements (CLAB) in Sweden,
  • For reprocessing or storage to the former USSR (only fuel elements from the Greifswald and Rheinsberg NPPs that had been produced there),
  • For further use to the Paks NPP in Hungary (only fuel elements from the Greifswald NPP).

Return transports of waste from reprocessing plants

Even though no further transports from Germany to reprocessing plants are carried out, there is still waste stored at the corresponding facilities abroad, waiting to be reprocessed. Therefore, radioactive waste continues to be returned to Germany in casks (CASTOR HAW28M and TGC27) from France, and in future also from the UK.

According to the existing contractual obligations, Germany is committed to take back the returned waste. This is also done in accordance with the principle that each state has to manage its own radioactive waste.

Transport volumes

The transports for the return of waste from the reprocessing plants in France and the UK are of great public interest. As of today, the following figures have been derived for the CASTOR HAW28M casks and the high-level and intermediate-level radioactive vitrified waste block canisters (vitrified waste that has been cast in a form) contained therein:

  • In the transport cask storage facility in Gorleben - not to be confused with the exploratory mine (where no radioactive waste is stored) and the waste storage facility (where operational waste form nuclear power plants is stored) – altogether 108 casks with high-level radioactive vitrified waste block canisters (and five casks with spent fuel elements) are actually stored.
  • According to information provided by the waste producers (the utilities), 21 casks containing high-level radioactive vitrified waste block canisters still have to be returned to Germany from the UK and five casks containing intermediate-level radioactive waste from France. Furthermore, processed hulls and ends of the fuel elements and radioactive waste from water treatment have to be returned from AREVA NC (hig—pressure compacted radioactive waste in TGC27 casks whose storage in the TBL Ahaus has been applied for). From the UK, only high-level radioactive vitrified waste block canisters will be returned.

Return of 26 casks from France and the UK

According to the original plans, the 21 casks from the UK and the 5 casks from France were to be taken to the Gorleben central interim storage facility.

With letters of 2 February 2012 and 10 February 2012, the GNS and the Brennelementlager Gorleben GmbH (BLG) filed an application to the BfS for a licence pursuant to § 6 AtG for the storage of solidified intermediate-level radioactive waste (MAW vitrified waste block canisters) in transport and storage casks of the CASTOR HAW28M type in the Gorleben transport cask storage facility. When it filed the application for the interim storage facility in 1993, the Brennelementlager Gorleben GmbH (BLG) informed the BfS that it intended to store solidified, high-level radioactive waste (HAW vitrified waste block canisters) from Sellafield in Gorleben.

BackgroundWhat to do with the radioactive wastes from reprocessing?

On 19 June 2015, Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks presented a concept that outlines how the vitrified intermediate-level and high-level radioactive wastes to be returned to Germany after reprocessing in France and the UK are to be distributed between some of the interim storage facilities available in Germany.

The BfE answers some key questions dealing with the return of wastes from reprocessing, with German interim storage facilities and the further procedure.

Based on the Law on the Selection of a Repository Site, the Atomic Energy Act (AtG) was amended, as well. Among others, § 9a Para. 2a AtG (in German only) has been added, which became effective on 1 January 2014. Accordingly, the utilities have to ensure that the solidified fission product solutions originating from the reprocessing of spent fuel elements abroad be taken back and stored in on-site interim storage facilities in future. The term "on site" refers to the nuclear power plant sites. The TBL Gorleben being a central and no on-site interim storage facility, it is no longer possible to store the waste in the TBL Gorleben.

According to a concept agreed between the Federal Environment Ministry, the utilities and federal states, it is now intended to assign the vitrified wastes to the on-site interim storage facilities

  • Philippsburg in Baden Wurttemberg (five casks containing MAW waste block canisters),
  • Biblis in Hesse (seven casks containing HAW waste block canisters),
  • Brokdorf in Schleswig-Holstein (seven casks containing HAW waste block canisters),
  • Isar in Bavaria (seven casks containing HAW waste block canisters).

In order to be able to take the casks into the interim storage facilities, corresponding permit applications for transport and interim storage must be submitted. The duration of the authorisation procedures depends essentially on the quality and completeness of the application documents.

Entire volume smaller than originally planned

The entire volume of the radioactive waste from the reprocessing plants in France and the UK to be returned to Germany is smaller than originally planned. There are several reasons for this:

  • On the one hand fewer spent fuel elements had been delivered to these facilities as a result of the termination of transports to the reprocessing plants abroad. As a consequence, less waste needs to be taken back.
  • On the other hand, there are new waste forms, having led to a reduction in volume. For example, instead of cemented and bituminised waste forms, high-pressure compacted and intermediate vitrified waste is now produced at AREVA NC (France).
  • Due to the substitution of low-level and intermediate-level radioactive waste for an equivalent additional volume of high-level radioactive waste (vitrified waste block canisters) that has been agreed contractually between the NPP operators and Sellafield Ltd., hulls and ends need not be taken back from Sellafield Ltd. That has also resulted in a reduction in volume.
  • Furthermore, the number of packages to be taken back per ton of heavy metal has been adapted on the basis experience now gained in production.
State of 2016.02.10

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