Monday, October 18, 2021
After Aus for Gorleben
Expert: repository will not be operational until 2050
The days of nuclear power in Germany are numbered. But because of the lack of a repository, highly radioactive waste will have to be stored at the nuclear power plant sites for decades, says an expert. He also appealed to better seek dialogue with the citizens in these places.
Highly radioactive waste from German nuclear power plants will probably have to remain at the nuclear power plant sites for well over half a century due to the lack of a repository. This is what the engineer and nuclear expert Michael Sailer, who headed the Federal Waste Management Commission until 2019, assumes. This would also mean that the approved operating life of the 16 interim storage facilities in Germany would be exceeded by far. Sailer assumes that the storage of the nuclear waste in the planned repository can only be completed around the year 2080.
After the end of the previously planned repository in Gorleben, Lower Saxony, the federal government has committed itself by law to the selection of a new location by 2031. “Then come the approval process and construction,” said Sailer in Augsburg.
“That will take an estimated 20 years, then we have 2050.” The repository could then go into trial operation. “We have 16 interim storage facilities in Germany in which highly radioactive waste is stored,” said Sailer. “For most of them, the permit period expires in 2045/46” – as can also be read on the operator’s website, the Gesellschaft für Zwischenlagerung (BGZ).
Protected from radiation for a million years
According to a reasonable estimate, it could take around 30 years for all of the casks to be brought from the interim storage facilities to the repository. “That means that the storage in the repository will last from 2050 to 2080,” said Sailer, who until 2019 also headed the Freiburg Öko-Institut. The underlying calculation: “We will have a total of around 1800 to 1900 castors in the 16 interim storage facilities that have to be brought to the repository,” said the engineer. There, spent fuel elements and vitrified waste would have to be transferred to the final storage containers in a protected facility.
According to the Site Selection Act (StandAG), the repository should be so safe that people and the environment are protected from radiation for a million years. “In one estimate, I assume that only a third of the waste in an intermediate storage container will fit into a final storage container,” said Sailer. “So it could be about 6,000 final storage containers.” Realistically, one must assume “that only about one container per day can be stored in the repository, everything has to be checked twice and three times,” says Sailer.
Expert demands: deal with renewal at an early stage
However, the interim storage facilities of the nuclear power plants are only approved for an operating period of 40 years. “We have no empirical values beyond these 40 years, and there is actually no way of calculating in advance.” According to the engineer, this is problematic. “One weak point is the sealing system between the container body and the lid.” “The second problem is the monitoring of the sealing systems. This is an extremely complex precision mechanical system that measures the pressure difference with very small components,” said Sailer. You have to ask yourself two things: “How long does it last? And if I have to replace parts, are there any manufacturers who can do that? This is a technology that is otherwise no longer needed today.”
Sailer called on politicians to deal with an extension of the temporary storage at an early stage. “It would be fatal if research and considerations on interim storage were not started until 2040.” According to Sailer, it will take years before there are reasonably reliable results. “From my point of view, it would also be good if the approval procedures for extending the operating life were started ten years in advance.” Sailer appealed to the BGZ to seek talks with the citizens at the locations. “My experience is that sometimes the public does not have targeted questions, sometimes critical questions – but also a lot of questions that the experts did not ask themselves, but which have turned out to be technically important.”