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Germany must now face up to its nuclear waste problem

Germany is closing all its nuclear power plants. Now it must find a place to bury the deadly waste for 1 million years

By Sheena McKenzie, [excellent diagrams]. CNN https://edition.cnn.com/2019/11/30/europe/germany-nuclear-waste-grm-intl/index.html   When it comes to the big questions plaguing the world’s scientists, they don’t get much larger than this.

Where do you safely bury more than 28,000 cubic meters — roughly six Big Ben clock towers — of deadly radioactive waste for the next million years?
This is the “wicked problem” facing Germany as it closes all of its nuclear power plants in the coming years, according to Professor Miranda Schreurs, part of the team searching for a storage site.
Experts are now hunting for somewhere to bury almost 2,000 containers of high-level radioactive waste. The site must be beyond rock-solid, with no groundwater or earthquakes that could cause a leakage.
The technological challenges — of transporting the lethal waste, finding a material to encase it, and even communicating its existence to future humans — are huge.
But the most pressing challenge today might simply be finding a community willing to have a nuclear dumping ground in their backyard.

Searching for a nuclear graveyard

Germany decided to phase out all its nuclear power plants in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in 2011, amid increasing safety concerns.
The seven power stations still in operation today are due to close by 2022.
With their closure comes a new challenge — finding a permanent nuclear graveyard by the government’s 2031 deadline.
Germany’s Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy says it aims to find a final repository for highly radioactive waste “which offers the best possible safety and security for a period of a million years.”
The country was a “blank map” of potential sites, it added.
Currently, high-level radioactive waste is stored in temporary facilities, usually near the power plant it came from.
But these facilities were “only designed to hold the waste for a few decades,” said Schreurs, chair of environmental and climate policy at the Technical University of Munich, and part of the national committee assisting the search for a high-level radioactive waste site.
As the name suggests, high-level radioactive waste is the most lethal of its kind. It includes the spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants. “If you opened up a canister with those fuel rods in it, you would more or less instantly die,” said Schreurs.
These rods are “so incredibly hot, it’s very hard to transport them safely,” said Schreurs. So for now they’re being stored in containers where they can first cool down over several decades, she added.
There are dozens of these temporary storage sites dotted across Germany. The search is now on for a permanent home at least 1 kilometer underground.

Between a rock and a hard place

The location will need to be geologically “very very stable,” said Schreurs. “It can’t have earthquakes, it can’t have any signs of water flow, it can’t be very porous rock.”
Finland, which has four nuclear power plants and plans to build more in the future, is a world leader in this field. Work is well underway on its own final repository for high-level waste — buried deep in granite bedrock.
Germany’s problem is “it doesn’t have a whole lot of granite,” said Schreurs. Instead, it has to work with the ground it’s got — burying the waste in things like rock salt, clay rock and crystalline granite.
Next year the team hope to have identified potential storage sites in Germany (there are no plans to export the waste). It’s a mission that stretches beyond our lifetimes — the storage facility will finally be sealed sometime between the years 2130 and 2170.
Communications experts are already working on how to tell future generations thousands of years from now — when language will be completely different — not to disturb the site.
Schreurs likened it to past explorers entering the pyramids of Egypt — “we need to find a way to tell them ‘curiosity is not good here.'”

People power

For now, nobody wants a nuclear dumping ground on their doorstep.
Schreurs admitted public mistrust was a challenge, given Germany’s recent history of disastrous storage sites.
Former salt mines at Asse and Morsleben, eastern Germany, that were used for low- and medium-level nuclear waste in the 1960s and 1970s, must now be closed in multibillion-dollar operations after failing to meet today’s safety standards.
The fears around high-level waste are even greater.
For more than 40 years, residents in the village of Gorleben, Lower Saxony, have fought tooth-and-nail to keep a permanent high-level waste repository off their turf.
The site was first proposed in 1977 in what critics say was a political choice. Gorleben is situated in what was then a sparsely populated area of West Germany, close to the East German border, and with a high unemployment rate that politicians argued would benefit from a nuclear facility.
Over the decades, there have been countless demonstrations against the proposal. Protesters have blocked railway tracks to stop what they described as “Chernobyl on wheels” — containers of radioactive waste headed for Gorleben’s temporary storage facility.
An exploratory mine was eventually constructed in Gorleben, but it was never used for nuclear waste. And in the face of huge public opposition, the government in recent years decided to start afresh its national search for a dumping ground.

December 2, 2019 Posted by | Germany, wastes | Leave a comment

France wants to label nuclear as “green”. Germany will have none of it

Paris, Berlin divided over nuclear’s recognition as green energy   https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy-environment/news/france-and-germany-divided-over-nuclears-inclusion-in-eus-green-investment-label/  By Cécile Barbière | EURACTIV.fr | translated by Daniel Eck  27 Nov 19, Disagreement on the inclusion of nuclear power in the EU’s upcoming green finance taxonomy has revived long-standing divisions between France and Germany over the energy transition. EURACTIV France reports.

Franco-German relations have already been strained by French President Emmanuel Macron’s radical comments on NATO’s “brain death,” which attracted strong rebukes in Berlin.

Now, the European Commission’s proposed taxonomy for sustainable finance has emerged as a new bone of contention.

Tabled in 2018, the EU taxonomy aims to determine which economic activities can benefit from a sustainable finance label at European level. The objective is to give clear indications to investors so they can redirect their financing towards environmentally-friendly sectors.

Six pre-defined environmental objectives must be met in order to obtain the label. If any technology seriously undermines one of those goals, it is automatically disqualified.

It is because of this double level of control that nuclear energy failed to win the green label in the European Parliament, until the Council representing EU member states voted to reinstate it in September.

Although nuclear energy largely meets the low-carbon emissions objective, “it was not possible to include nuclear power because there is no scientific evidence for waste treatment. This means that the sector does not meet both requirements,” explained  Jochen Krimphoff, WWF’s deputy director for green finance.

Since the beginning of the negotiations on the EU’s taxonomy, France has been pushing to reintroduce nuclear power, much to Germany’s dismay.

“France will advocate that nuclear energy should be part of this eco-label,” said French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire at the conference to replenish the Green Fund at the end of October.

“We cannot succeed in the ecological transition, and we cannot achieve our goal in terms of combating global warming without nuclear energy,” the French minister said.

Although nuclear energy largely meets the low-carbon emissions objective, “it was not possible to include nuclear power because there is no scientific evidence for waste treatment. This means that the sector does not meet both requirements,” explained  Jochen Krimphoff, WWF’s deputy director for green finance.

Since the beginning of the negotiations on the EU’s taxonomy, France has been pushing to reintroduce nuclear power, much to Germany’s dismay.

“France will advocate that nuclear energy should be part of this eco-label,” said French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire at the conference to replenish the Green Fund at the end of October.

“We cannot succeed in the ecological transition, and we cannot achieve our goal in terms of combating global warming without nuclear energy,” the French minister said.

The move is all the more surprising given France’s rather progressive positions on the taxonomy. For example, Paris has, like the Commission and Parliament, been calling for the taxonomy to enter into force as early as 2020, while the Council has advocated for implementation in 2023.

For its part, Germany would not be opposed to labeling gas as green. This could be at the risk of a deal that would see both gas and nuclear power re-entering the scheme.

November 28, 2019 Posted by | France, Germany, politics international | 1 Comment

In Germany , renewables replace nuclear and lower emissions simultaneously

Renewables replace nuclear and lower emissions simultaneously Energy Transmission, by Craig Morris, 20 Nov 2019

A myth is haunting the English-speaking world: Germany allegedly shows that emissions rise because renewables can’t replace nuclear – and that France is right to stick with nuclear. What do the data show? Craig Morris reports

It’s not just trolls: Cambridge professors are saying it, and top US journalists are saying it, and a US presidential candidate told it to the New York Times:

“Germany initially set out to close all of its nuclear reactors by 2022, but as a result, they are now likely to miss their emissions reduction targets. And France is now considering options to extend the life of many of its older nuclear power plants.”

— US presidential candidate Marianne Williamson in the New York Times

What’s worse, US policymakers are saying it. Five US states now subsidize nuclear to keep reactors from closing, and it’s possible that all of them have done so based on this incorrect assumption. It happened years ago in New York State with explicit reference to German emissions allegedly rising because of the phase-out, it then happened in Illinois, and as one press report from Ohio put it this year when the new nuclear subsidy was announced:

The experience of Germany was repeatedly used as an example of what might happen in Ohio. Germany decommissioned its nuclear plants in favor of an all-renewable strategy. Electricity prices spiked and carbon pollution spiked, in part because of the ramping up of fossil-fuel plants to compensate for when wind and solar faltered.

“If the studies are correct, the Germans must not know how to do this,” Mr. Randazzo [chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio] said.

“If the studies are correct” indeed: So do Germany and France show that climate change requires nuclear, as Williamson says? Let’s start with France………..

France’s concern is theoretical: they didn’t actually close any reactors and try to replace the power with renewables. Rather, the French left nuclear on, and renewables hardly grew; solar (1.9%) and wind (5.1%) made up a mere 7.5% of French power supply in 2018. (In Germany, solar alone covered 7.7% of demand in 2018, with wind adding another 18.7% for a total of 26.4%). But in Germany, replacing nuclear with renewables isn’t just a postponed political ambition; it’s happening. So what do we know?

Germany emissions during the nuclear phaseout

In 2011, eight of Germany’s 17 reactors were closed. From 2010-2017, emissions in the power sector fell by more than 15%. For 2018, the power sector numbers are not yet in, but emissions from the energy sector fell by nearly two percentage points. And to date in 2019, renewables have nearly reached 50% of power supply. Germany now has some 210 TWh of non-hydro renewable power, far more than the record level of 171 TWh in 2001 for nuclear. Since 2010, renewable power has grown nearly twice as fast as nuclear shrank. Some nine tenths of it is wind and solar alone. Clearly, Germany shows that renewables can reduce emissions during a nuclear phaseout.

At this point, I hear objections. The first: “but Germany is going to miss its 2020 climate target!” Yes, it is expected to reach a 32% emissions reduction, not 40% relative to 1990 (French emissions fell by 15% from 1990-2017 in comparison, albeit from a much lower level thanks to nuclear). But the Germans don’t see the power sector as the main problem. As Deutsche Bank recently put it, “So far, Germany’s efforts… have focused on the electricity sector. However, attention is increasingly shifting towards the transport sector and its steadily rising carbon emissions.” Former Environmental Minister and Christian Democrat Klaus Töpfer recently worded the German consensus well: “We have the highest taxes on electricity although we have reduced emissions there the most.” That’s right: Germany has performed best in the sector where it has removed nuclear and worse in sectors where nuclear plays little or no role: mobility, agriculture, and heat.

The second objection is generally: “Germany would have lowered emissions even more if it had phased out coal, not nuclear.” That’s a fine thing to discuss, but it only moves us from a falsehood (“German phaseout raised emissions”) to revisionist history – not to facts. The revisionist historians act as though renewables would have been built anyway if nuclear remained online. As I wrote in my 50-page paper entitled Can reactors react (2018), the Germans argued a decade ago that renewables were unlikely to be built if nuclear stayed online.

What do the French and German cases show about how much renewable energy gets added when nuclear stays online? The French are also failing to add new nuclear as quickly as its own power company closes old reactors it wishes to keep on. From 2010-2018, wind and solar grew by 27.4 TWh in France, while nuclear shrank by 14.7 TWh (and demand stayed flat). During the same timeframe in Germany, nuclear shrank by 64.6 TWh – but solar and wind alone grew by 91.8 TWh.

The current French situation suggests that, if you remain committed to nuclear, nuclear power nonetheless shrinks; to make matters worse, the growth of renewables struggles to close the gap. Germany suggests that, if you stick with renewables and phase out nuclear, renewables growth outstrips the drop in nuclear nearly twofold, and you reduce emissions by 2 percentage points annually in the power sector. https://energytransition.org/2019/11/renewables-replace-nuclear-and-lower-emissions-simultaneously/

November 23, 2019 Posted by | Germany, renewable | Leave a comment

Highly toxic nuclear waste being imported into Russia, from Germany

October 24, 2019 Posted by | Germany, Russia, wastes | Leave a comment

Study: Germany needs clean energy surge to replace coal, nuclear

September 17, 2019 Posted by | Germany, renewable | Leave a comment

Germany shows how it can lead the world in neatly shutting down nuclear power

Spectacular Video Shows Nuclear Power Plant Demolition in Germany

How to demolish a nuclear power plant without blowing it up, By Sheena McKenzie, CNN August 16, 2019 London (CNN Business)This is how you demolish a nuclear power plant German-style. No big red button. No dramatic countdown. No “kaboom!”

August 17, 2019 Posted by | decommission reactor, Germany | Leave a comment

Tower of German nuclear station demolished. The plant was on line for only 13 months

Short-lived German nuclear plant’s cooling tower demolished  https://www.citynews1130.com/2019/08/09/short-lived-german-nuclear-plants-cooling-tower-demolished/, BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, Aug 9, 2019 

BERLIN — The cooling tower of a former nuclear power plant next to the Rhine River in Germany that was online for just 13 months has been demolished, 31 years after it stopped producing electricity.

Remote-controlled excavators on Friday removed pillars that supported the tower at the Muelheim-Kaerlich plant, near Koblenz. The tower, whose top half had already been removed by a specially designed robot, collapsed under its own weight in a cloud of dust a couple of hours later.

Muelheim-Kaerlich was switched off in September 1988 after 13 months in service when a federal court ruled the risk of earthquakes in the area hadn’t been taken into account sufficiently. After a lengthy legal battle, demolition started in 2004. Operator RWE says nearly all radioactive material had already been removed by then.

August 10, 2019 Posted by | decommission reactor, Germany | Leave a comment

Germany’s Grohnde nuclear plant headed for shutdown, due to high temperatures

Nuclear power plant in Germany at verge of getting switched off due to heat wave – Nuclear phase-out, 26 Jul 2019, Benjamin Wehrmann  https://www.cleanenergywire.org/news/nuclear-power-plant-germany-verge-getting-switched-due-heat-wave

Clean Energy Wire / NDR / Bloomberg  

A nuclear power plant in northern Germany has come to the verge of being taken off the grid on Friday, a Lower Saxony state environment ministry spokesperson told Clean Energy Wire. The ministry on Thursday had said the Grohnde nuclear plant near Hannover would likely be taken offline, as high temperatures were excessively warming a river used for the plant’s cooling system, and should be started up again once the heat wave that has hit Germany and other European countries with unprecedented temperatures has abated. On Friday, the plant’s operator, Preussen Elektra had informed the ministry that water temperatures were not rising as quickly as expected. However, precautions for a possible shutdown were taken nonetheless, the operator said. The river Weser, into which the plant’s cooling water is discharged, is suffering low water levels and has warmed to above 26 degrees Celsius. Additional heat from the nuclear reactor could damage the river’s ecosystem, the ministry said.

According to preliminary figures from meteorological service DWD, 25 June set another temperature record for Germany. Lingen in Lower Saxony recorded a high of 42.6 degrees, breaking the previous day’s all-time German high of 40.5 degrees.

July 27, 2019 Posted by | climate change, Germany | Leave a comment

Renewable energy providing more electricity than coal and nuclear power combined in Germany

Renewable energy providing more electricity than coal and nuclear power combined in Germany Independent  Solar, wind, biomass and hydroelectric power generates nearly half of country’s output.   Emma Snaith, 25 Jul 19, 

Renewable sources of energy produced more electricity than coal and nuclear power combined for the first time in Germany, according to new figures.

Solar, wind, biomass and hydroelectric power generation accounted for 47.3 per cent of the country’s electricity production in the first six months of 2019, while 43.4 per cent came from coal-fired and nuclearpower plants.

Around 15 per cent less carbon dioxide was produced than in the same period last year, according to figures published by the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) in July.

However, some scientists have attributed the high renewable power output to favourable weather patterns and “market-driven events”.

Fabian Hein, from the think tank Agora Energiewende, told Deutsche Welle the 20 per cent increase in wind production was the result of particularly windy conditions in 2019……..

Renewables accounted for 40 per cent of Germany’s electricity consumption in 2018, according to government figures.

While in the UK, 29 per cent of electricity was sourced from renewables last year.

Germany is aiming to phase out its nuclear power plants by 2022. Its renewable energy has been rising steadily over the last two decades thanks in part to the Renewable Energy Act (EEG), which was reformed last year to cut costs for consumers.

But Germany still relies heavily on coal, gas and lignite for its energy needs.

Germany’s reluctance to end its dependence on coal saw hundreds of climate activists storm one of the country’s biggest open-pit coal mines in June to protest against fossil fuel use.

..electricity production from solar panels rose by six per cent, natural gas by 10 per cent, while the share of nuclear power in the country’s electricity production has remained virtually unchanged.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/renewable-energy-germany-electricity-coal-nuclear-power-a9017821.html

 

July 25, 2019 Posted by | Germany, renewable | Leave a comment

ACTIVISTS WALK “CEASE AND DESIST” ORDER INTO NUCLEAR WEAPONS BASE

ACTIVISTS WALK “CEASE AND DESIST” ORDER INTO NUCLEAR WEAPONS BASE  https://riseuptimes.org/2019/07/22/activists-walk-cease-and-desist-order-into-nuclear-weapons-base/ July 22, 2019 · by Rise Up Times 

BÜCHEL, Germany — Eleven international peace activists entered the Büchel Air Base southwest of Frankfurt early this morning to deliver what they called a “Treaty Enforcement Order” declaring that the sharing of US nuclear weapons at the base is a “criminal conspiracy to commit war crimes.”

Upon entering the base’s main gate with a printed “cease and desist order,” they insisted on seeing the base commander to deliver the order in person.

“We refuse to be complicit in this crime,” said Brian Terrell of Voices for Creative Nonviolence in Chicago, Illinois. “We call for the nuclear bombs to be returned to the US immediately. The Germans want these nuclear weapons out of Germany, and so do we.”

The group included people from Germany, The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States. All eleven were detained by military and civilian authorities and were released after providing identification. This is the third year in a row that a delegation of US peace activists has joined Europeans and others in protesting the US nuclear weapons at Büchel. The local group Nonviolent Action for Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (GAAA) convenes the International Action Week, demanding permanent ouster of the US nuclear weapons, cancellation of plans to replace today’s B61s with new hydrogen bombs, and Germany’s ratification of the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

“Delivery of the ‘Cease and Desist Order’ is an act of crime prevention,” said John LaForge, of the US peace group Nukewatch and coordinator of the US delegation. “The authorities think the entry is a matter of trespass. But these nuclear bomb threats violate the UN Charter, the Treaty on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.” he said, adding, “Interrupting government criminality is a duty of responsible citizenship.”The activists included: (from the United States) Susan Crane, Richard Bishop, Andrew Lanier, Jr., Brian Terrell, Ralph Hutchison, and Dennis DuVall; (from the UK) Richard Barnard; (from The Netherlands) Margriet Bos, and Susan van der Hijden; and (from Germany) Dietrich Gerstner, and Birke Kleinwächter.

Susan van der Hijden of Amsterdam, who is just back from the US where she visited the Kansas City, Kansas site of a factory working on parts of the new replacement bomb, known as the B61-12. “The planning and training to use the US H-bombs that goes on at Büchel cannot be legal, because organizing mass destruction has been a criminal act since the Nuremberg Trials after WWII,” van der Hijden said.

July 23, 2019 Posted by | Germany, opposition to nuclear, weapons and war | Leave a comment

In 2019, in Germany, renewables are providing more electricity than are coal and nuclear

German renewables deliver more electricity than coal and nuclear power for the first time, DW,17July19

In Germany, sun, wind, water and biomass have so far produced more electricity in 2019 than coal and nuclear power combined. But it’s a snapshot of a special market situation and might not be a long-term trend.

In Lippendorf, Saxony, the energy supplier EnBW is temporarily taking part of a coal-fired power plant offline. Not because someone ordered it — it simply wasn’t paying off. Gas prices are low, CO2 prices are high, and with many hours of sunshine and wind, renewable methods are producing a great deal of electricity. And in the first half of the year there was plenty of sun and wind.

The result was a six-month period in which renewable energy sources produced more electricity than coal and nuclear power plants together. For the first time 47.3% of the electricity consumers used came from renewable sources, while 43.4% came from coal-fired and nuclear power plants.

In addition to solar and wind power, renewable sources also include hydropower and biomass. Gas supplied 9.3% while the remaining 0.4% came from other sources, such as oil, according to figures published by the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems in July.

A vision of the future

Fabian Hein from the think tank Agora Energiewende stresses that the situation is only a snapshot in time. For example, the first half of 2019 was particularly windy and wind power production rose by around 20% compared to the first half of 2018.

Electricity production from solar panels rose by 6%, natural gas by 10%, while the share of nuclear power in German electricity consumption has remained virtually unchanged.

Coal, on the other hand, declined. Black coal energy production fell by 30% compared to the first half of 2018, lignite fell by 20%. Some coal-fired power plants were even taken off the grid. It is difficult to say whether this was an effect of the current market situation or whether this is simply part of long-term planning, says Hein………

The increase in wind and solar power and the decline in nuclear power have also reduced CO2 emissions. In the first half of 2019, electricity generation emitted around 15% less CO2 than in the same period last year, reported BDEW. However, the association demands that the further expansion of renewable energies should not be hampered. The target of 65% renewable energy can only be achieved if the further expansion of renewable energy sources is accelerated. https://www.dw.com/en/german-renewables-deliver-more-electricity-than-coal-and-nuclear-power-for-the-first-time/a-49606644-0

July 18, 2019 Posted by | Germany, renewable | 1 Comment

German climate activists storm open cut coal mine

 BBC 23rd June 2019 Hundreds of climate change activists have stormed an open cast coal mine in
western Germany to campaign against fossil fuels. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-48734321

June 24, 2019 Posted by | climate change, Germany | Leave a comment

Germany’s energy plant operators as well as government are clear that nuclear station lifetimes will not be extended

June 6, 2019 Posted by | business and costs, Germany, politics | Leave a comment

Germany launches public meetings, in search of nuclear waste repository solution

Public info event kicks off search for nuclear waste repository  https://www.cleanenergywire.org/news/public-info-event-kicks-search-nuclear-waste-repository

Nuclear phase-out, Clean Energy Wire , 24 Apr 19  The next stage of the search for a final repository for Germany’s nuclear waste is launched today with a series of public information events in major German cities, the Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management (BfE) says. Following protests, exploration of a site in Gorleben was terminated, and a multi-stakeholder commission proposed a new search starting with a “blank map” and aiming to find a suitable site by 2031. The procedure was approved as law by parliament in 2017. The new rules prioritise citizens’ participation and transparent research processes. Researchers from the Federal Company for Radioactive Waste Disposal (BGE) are currently analysing geological data from all German states.
Germany will have to store around 28,100 cubic metres of high-level radioactive waste by 2080, for up to several million years. The search will focus on possible storage sites in rock salt, clay rock and crystalline granite, but experience at sites like Gorleben has shown that no community is particularly keen on living next to nuclear waste storage.

April 25, 2019 Posted by | Germany, wastes | Leave a comment

Germany’s huge task in dismantling its nuclear power stations

Germany’s atomic phase-out: How to dismantle a nuclear power plant https://www.dw.com/en/germanys-atomic-phase-out-how-to-dismantle-a-nuclear-power-plant/a-4782376611 Mar 19, Germany now has just seven nuclear plants left in operation, but what becomes of those that are already decommissioned? Bits of them are recycled, and could ultimately end up in our kitchens.

When Egbert Bialk looks at the giant demolition robot perched on top of the cooling tower at the Mülheim-Kärlich nuclear power plant, it makes him happy.

“Happy that the eyesore is finally being dismantled,” he told DW. “Some said we should leave it standing as a memorial or piece of art. But for me the tower is like a symbol of humanity’s arrogance, of us playing with fire.”

Bialk began campaigning against the reactor when it was built near his home in the 1970s, and has since joined the local chapter of environmental group BUND to observe the 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) decommissioning of the facility.

The dismantling of the western German plant, which will take two decades to complete, started in 2004, seven years before the Fukushima disaster that prompted Angela Merkel’s government to announce the nation’s complete withdrawal from nuclear power by 2022.

With just a couple of years to go before that deadline, seven plants  are still in operation, and even after they’ve shut down for good, it will take many more years before all the country’s reactors have been safely dismantled, and contaminated sites cleared and deemed free of radiation

One of the most pressing questions during this lengthy process, is what to do with the radioactive waste?

Buried in mines

The first things to be removed are the heavily contaminated spent fuel rods, which contain the nuclear fuel that is converted into electrical power.

Because Germany doesn’t yet have a long-term depository for highly radioactive waste, the rods are currently stored in so-called Castor containers in several locations across the country.

By the time all the nation’s reactors have been decomissioned, there will be around 1,900 such containers in interim storage. And there they will remain until a suitable location for their permanent resting place has been found

Read more: Nuclear waste in disused German mine leaves a bitter legacy

“We expect the storage phase to take 50 years,” Monika Hotopp, spokeswoman of BGE told DW.

Exactly what it will all cost, is unknown. Much depends on the ultimate location, but the 4.2 billion euro preparations of a former iron ore mine known as pit Konrad to be used as the final depository for low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste could serve as some kind of indicator.

Once things like technical equipment and parts of buildings exposed to nuclear fission reaction for years, have been buried in the mine, it will be filled up with concrete and sealed.

“When sealed, it’s safe and there should be no danger of nuclear radiation for the environment,” Hotopp told DW.

Environmental groups however, warn that nuclear waste remains a threat even when buried deep under the ground.

“The depositories have to be able to contain radiation for up to 500,000 years,” local environmentalist Bialk told DW. “We are giving a time bomb to future generations.”

Building materials recycled into roads and pots

And what happens to the rest of the waste? The hundred of thousands of tons of metal, concrete, pipes and other building materials that accumulate during the dismantling process?

Because under German law, the entire plant, including offices and the canteen, are considered radioactive, no single item can be removed before operators can prove it is no longer contaminated. Once considered free of radiation or at least to be below the safety limit, the waste can be disposed of at regular landfills and recycling sites.

Environmental groups and locals criticize this practice, on the grounds that once materials have been recycled, nobody knows where they end up. Concrete from nuclear power plants could be used to pave our roads, while metals could be melted and turned into pots and pans.

“Melted metals could even be turned into braces for kids; they could be contaminated by radiation and no one would know,” he told DW. “I think it would be useful to track where the materials from nuclear sites end up.”

But experts don’t regard post-decommissioning monitoring as necessary.

“The risks are minimal,” Christian Küppers, who specializes in nuclear facility safety at the environmental research center Oeko-Institut, told DW. “The safety limits for radiation correspond to what we are naturally exposed to in the environment,”

All the material from nuclear power plants that expose radiation below 0.01 millisieverts per year can be recycled, Küppers continued.

By way of comparison, the Oeko- Institut says people are exposed to natural radiation of 2.1 millisieverts per year in Germany, and a one-way transatlantic flight exposes those on board to between 0.04 and 0.11 millisieverts of radiation.

From nuclear site to “greenfield”

Once the nuclear power plants have been completely dismantled, all the waste removed and when there is no longer any measurable trace of radiation, the premises can be returned to greenfield status.

At this point, the premises are considered to be regular industrial sites, and can be sold as such.

Likewise pit Konrad. Once the mine has been closed and sealed, which is expected to happens around the year 2100, the land on top of it will also be returned to greenfield space. Theoretically, houses could then be built on it.

Whether anybody would want to live there, is another question, says Monika Hotopp from BGE, the federal company in charge of the long-term storage sites.

Because ultimately, nuclear power has become synonymous with danger. And as Bialk puts it, even when all the  plants have been dismantled and the waste stored, the problem won’t have gone away.

“First, the radioactive waste remains dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years. Second, other countries still rely on nuclear power,” he said. “There are more than 50 nuclear power plants in France alone, and if an accident were to happen there, it would affect us, too.”

March 12, 2019 Posted by | decommission reactor, Germany | Leave a comment