Swiss decision triggers "great astonishment" - politics

For almost four decades, just like Germany, Switzerland has been looking for a location to store its nuclear waste. A total of five nuclear power plants supplied the Swiss with electricity, four are still in operation. The decision has now been made: The Swiss repository for radioactive waste is to be built in "Nördlich Lägern", in the border area between the cantons of Zurich and Aargau, not far from the border with Germany. It is the safest location for a deep repositorysaid the National Cooperative for the Disposal of Radioactive Waste (Nagra), which is responsible for the search, on Saturday: "The geology has spoken," Nagra boss Matthias Braun told Swiss radio SRF.

Actually, Nagra - an association of the Swiss producers of nuclear waste - and the Swiss Federal Office of Energy did not want to announce to the public until this Monday which site they chose. But because the authorities had informed many directly affected in advance, the decision leaked out and both Nagra and the Federal Office confirmed it.

This means that the two other possible locations "Zürich Nordost" and "Jura Ost" are out of the game until further notice. All three areas are in northern Switzerland and close to the German border. Years ago, the region turned out to be the best place for a nuclear repository because there is so-called Opalinus Clay underground: a rock that is hardly permeable to water and is therefore suitable for the safe storage of radioactive waste.

The mayor of the municipality of Hohentengen takes note of the decision "with great astonishment".

There is now excitement in the affected region - not least on the German side, where the communities have been involved in the finding process for years, but ultimately cannot have a say. Martin Benz, mayor of Hohentengen, wrote in a statement made available to the SZ that the decision was taken “with great astonishment”. There is only a good two kilometers between the planned camp and its community, and according to Benz, the transshipment point for deliveries and removals is only 650 meters away from the residential areas.

What worries Benz most, however, is that Nagra had already removed the Nördlich Lägern site from the shortlist in 2015. In fact, they did not want to continue drilling there because the suitable rock layer is deeper there than at the other two locations. However, after intervention by the federal nuclear supervisory authority, Nagra had to revise this decision. In 2020, she announced that the construction of a deep repository was also feasible in Nördlich Lägern, at a depth of 900 meters.

"We are expecting a conclusive and detailed justification as to why the Nördlich Lägern location was able to make it from the previously deferred location to the preferred location," writes the mayor of Hohentengen now. On the phone he adds: "Due to this history, there is no trust in Nagra." The justification of the Swiss authorities will therefore definitely be checked by German experts.

The German government makes a similar statement. The location of the site near the border "represents a great burden for this and the surrounding communities both in the construction phase and in the operation of the repository," says Christian Kühn, Parliamentary State Secretary in the Federal Ministry for the Environment and member of the Bundestag from Baden-Württemberg. The Swiss Deep Repository Expert Group (ESchT) will now, on behalf of the ministry, make an assessment of the plausibility of the site proposal and evaluate it. The group of experts has been supporting the Swiss search for a repository since 2006 from the German side.

The Baden-Württemberg Minister of the Environment, Thekla Walker, also announced an "in-depth" review of the Swiss plans on Sunday. According to Walker, the Nördlich Lägern site, with its immediate proximity to the border, "demonstrates unmistakably that the neighboring population of Baden-Württemberg makes a major contribution to the disposal of Swiss nuclear waste." She therefore expects cross-border participation in the further proceedings.

Whether resistance to the Swiss decision will increase also depends on this Monday. Then Nagra and the politicians responsible in Bern will explain their decision in detail and answer questions from the public.

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