Switzerland declares a repository site for nuclear waste on the German border

Dhe planned location for the Swiss nuclear waste repository near the border to Baden-Württemberg is, according to Swiss experts, the safest place for radioactive waste. The Nördlich Lägern region, not far from the German municipality of Hohentengen, is the best choice among the three sites examined for purely geological reasons, said Matthias Braun, head of the National Cooperative for the Disposal of Radioactive Waste (Nagra), on Monday in Bern. "It's a clear decision. The geology has spoken.”

The necessary rock layer of Opalinus Clay is there deepest under the earth's surface, the layer is thickest and the possible area for the planned repository is largest. In Nördlich Lägern, traces of the oldest water were found in the rock layer: 175 million years old. That gives him the confidence to make long-term forecasts, Braun said. "The rock is very dense, binds radioactive materials like a magnet, and should it break, it heals itself."

The packing station for the fuel elements is to be built at the current interim storage facility in Würenlingen, not far from Waldshut-Tiengen in Germany, because there are already buildings there. They just need to be expanded. The fuel rods, which are around 3.5 to 4.5 meters long and weigh around two kilograms and have a diameter of a good one centimetre, are to be packed there. About one hundred to almost three hundred fuel rods are bundled with spacers to form a fuel assembly.

The Federal Office of Energy and the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (Ensi) want to examine Nagra's proposals in the approval process. In addition to four Swiss professors, four German professors are also represented in the Ensi expert group for deep geological repositories. The radioactive waste from nuclear power plants, industry and research is to be buried hundreds of meters deep in the repository. The Federal Office emphasized that the approval had not yet been decided. In the most favorable case, construction could begin in 2031 and storage in 2050.

Image: Andreas Niebel

The German communities reacted to the decisions with skepticism. They want to check carefully whether Nagra's justifications are plausible, especially since the Nördlich Lägern site was deferred as a second choice in 2015. According to Braun, uncertainty factors were decisive at the time because the Opalinus Clay layer was so deep there. However, further tests would have proved them wrong: "It turned out that the strength of the rock is about twice as good as it was assessed in the cautious scenario at the time," he said.

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