Nuclear power: Switzerland wants to build a nuclear waste repository near the German border

nuclear power
Switzerland wants to build a nuclear waste repository near the German border

A local sign from Hohentengen on the High Rhine.  Switzerland now wants a repository for its nuclear waste at the border

A local sign from Hohentengen on the High Rhine. Switzerland now wants to build a repository for its nuclear waste on the border with Germany south of the German municipality of Hohentengen. photo

© Walter_Bieri/Keystone/Epa/dpa

It was already clear that the Swiss nuclear waste repository should be on the German border. Now it is also known where exactly.

the Switzerland wants to build its repository for nuclear waste a few kilometers south of the Baden-Württemberg municipality of Hohentengen. This was announced by the spokesman for the National Cooperative for the Disposal of Radioactive Waste (Nagra), Patrick Studer, on Saturday. There were two other locations to choose from, which are also very close to the German border.

The Federal Environment Ministry described Switzerland's decision as a burden for the affected communities. The location close to the border "poses both in the construction phase and in the operation of the repository a major burden for these and surrounding communities," said Christian Kühn, Parliamentary State Secretary in the Federal Ministry for the Environment and member of the Bundestag from Baden-Württemberg, on Saturday evening in Berlin. "I am working with Switzerland to ensure that the previous good integration of the German neighbors." In Germany, the decision to have its own repository site for highly radioactive nuclear waste will not be made until 2031 at the earliest.

The selected Swiss region of Nördlich Lägern is partially within sight of towns in Baden-Württemberg Hohentengen. There, the waste is to be embedded in Opalinus Clay at a depth of several hundred meters. "The required confinement time is around 200,000 years for high-​level waste and around 30,000 years for low-level and intermediate-​level waste," says Nagra's website.

Specifically, it is about 9,300 cubic meters of high-​level radioactive waste and 72,000 cubic meters of low-level and intermediate-​level radioactive waste. They come from what were once the five Swiss nuclear power plants, as well as from medicine and industry. Four nuclear power plants are still operating. They should not be replaced, but may be operated as long as their safety is guaranteed. That may go as far as the 2040s.

Concern about drinking water supply

The German communities near the border are primarily concerned with the issue of drinking water supply. "We have drinking water fountains everywhere, we have the Aare and Rhine nearby. The question of drinking water protection is a major concern for the population," says Martin Steinebrunner from the German Coordination Office for Swiss Deep Repository (DKST) at the Hochrhein-Lake Constance regional association.

It is still unclear where the packaging for final storage is to take place. The waste is currently in an interim storage facility for nuclear waste in Würenlingen, around 15 kilometers south of the German municipality of Waldshut-Tiengen.

Nagra intends to submit a planning application by 2024. The government then decides on the approval, and Parliament must approve the resolution. In Switzerland, however, a referendum can be enforced. That would probably not take place before 2031. If the decision is not rejected, then construction begins. The multi-year emplacement would begin around 2050. The camp would then be observed for several decades. Around 2125 it will be finally sealed and the structures on the surface will be dismantled.


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