Germany’s Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation & Nuclear Safety (BMUV – Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz, nukleare Sicherheit und Verbraucherschutz) has cancelled plans for a centralised low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste logistics centre at the former Würgassen NPP site. 

Citing “legal and planning risks”, BMUV said the project, Central Deployment Camp/Logistics Centre for the Konrad repository (LoK) was unlikely to be implemented on time and was therefore not economical. In the LoK, containers with prepackaged low- and medium-level radioactive waste from decentralised interim storage facilities around the country would have been assembled ready for transport to Konrad with the aim of speeding up final disposal. However, the Ministry needed to acquire property for the LoK by the end of the year and at a significant cost. “Therefore BMUV decided to end the project and avoid a likely bad investment of around €2bn.” This means operation of the Konrad repository will not be shortened. BGZ Gesellschaft für Zwischenstorage mbH (BZG), the federal company that was developing the LoK, will now focus on decentralised delivery to the Konrad repository, which it had started as a precaution in parallel with work on the LoK.

Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke said ending the procedure for a separate logistics centre for the Konrad repository created “clarity and reliability for everyone involved”. Intensive audits by BMUV and the ongoing exchanges with participating state governments meant the logistics centre could not be realised in time and would be a bad investment, she said. “The necessary end of the logistics centre also means that the Konrad repository will now be in operation longer. Transports there from nuclear waste interim warehouses across the country will put a strain on our society for decades. The people who live in the interim facilities and in the repository region in particular deserve our respect and gratitude. It is good that, thanks to the nuclear phase-out, we no longer produce radioactive waste from nuclear power plants.” 

In 2017 the Disposal Transfer Act had created the legal basis for setting up a central supply warehouse for the Konrad repository in order to significantly shorten its operating time and to clear the relevant interim storage facilities more quickly. BGZ’s planning for this central deployment facility, the LoK, started in 2018. In March 2020 BGZ announced that, as there was no space for such a facility on the Konrad site itself, it would build the LoK at the site of the decommissioned Würgassen NPP. The deadline for purchasing land for the LoK expired at the end of the year but complicated negotiations and the high cost meant the deadline could not be met. BMUV noted that the LoK would only speed up the final storage of low and medium radioactive waste if it was completed on time.

Since the planning and work for a logistics centre at Würgassen was already underway, looking for another site would only extend the time before a LoK was ready for use. Therefore BMUV, as sole shareholder of the BGZ, decided to discontinue the LoK project altogether. To date, a total of around €60m had been spent on the LoK project, which has been refinanced by the Fund for the Financing of Nuclear Disposal (KENFO) in accordance with the regulations of the Disposal Transition Act. Completing the project would have cost around €1.9bn without inflation and escalation.

BGZ in response the BMUV’s decision said it will now concentrate on the alternatives for supplying the Konrad final repository. “Corresponding plans for decentralised delivery to Konrad directly from the existing interim storage facilities have already been started in parallel with the LoK project. The aim was to ensure that the final repository was supplied with waste containers for a transitional period until the LoK was fully operational. However, the shortening of storage operations by around 10 years planned with the LoK is no longer achievable.”

Thomas Lautsch, technical director of the Bundesgesellschaft für Endlagerung (BGE) – which assumed responsibility as the operator of the Asse II mine and the Konrad and Morsleben repositories from the Federal Office for Radiation Protection in 2017 believes BMUV’s decision is an incentive to complete the Konrad repository quickly so that it can then begin receiving waste. "The Konrad final storage facility can be operated without a logistics centre," Lautsch said. "But when it comes to the delivery of waste from more than 30 interim storage facilities throughout Germany, this raises questions about transport and delivery in the correct order for storage."

The final disposal of up to 303,000 cubic metres of LLW/ILW at Konrad is set to begin in the early 2030s. This waste represents 95% of the country's waste with 1% of the radioactivity. At present, it is stored above-ground in interim storage facilities at more than 30 locations in Germany. At the Konrad repository, the containers will be immobilised with suitable concrete and sealed off during emplacement. All cavities of the mine will eventually be backfilled and sealed to ensure long-term safety.

Image: The Würgassen site