Map showing sub-areas identified in Germany as favourable for storage of high-level waste (Credit; BGE)Germany’s waste management organisation, Bundesgesellschaft für Endlagerung mbH (BGE), on 28 September published an interim report on areas that may be that are unsuitable for the final disposal of high-level radioactive waste.

BGE has identified 90 sub-areas with a total area of over 240,000 square kilometres. Since these sub-areas partially overlap, the total area is around 194,000 square kilometres or around 54% of the country's area.

“The chance of finding a location in Germany for a repository for high-level radioactive waste that offers security for a million years is very good. This is shown by the 90 sub-areas across the country,” said Stefan Studt, BGE Management Board Chairman.

Sub-areas are areas that suggest a favourable overall geological situation for the storage of highly radioactive waste. There are very small sub-areas, for example salt domes, but also very large sub-areas, for example large clay formations, which can extend over several districts or even federal state borders, BGE noted. The sub-areas are spread across all federal states with the exception of Saarland.

In claystone, the BGE has identified nine sub-areas with an area of almost 130,000 square kilometres. In rock salt host rock, a total of 74 sub-areas with an area of just over 30,000 square kilometres have been identified. Of these, 60 are located in steep rock salt formations, i.e. salt domes, and 14 in stratiform – i.e. flat – rock salt formations. Seven sub-areas with an area of almost 81,000 square kilometres are located in crystalline host rock.

"The size of the sub-areas makes it easy to see that we are still a long way from making a preliminary decision on a location," said Steffen Kanitz, who is responsible for location selection. "We are now looking forward to the discussion with the citizens and the specialist public about our results, our methods of applying the criteria of the Site Selection Act and working on new tasks with our committed team of scientists."

The interim report is the basis for the first phase of formal public consultation.The Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management (BASE) will start participating on 17/18 October.

The aim of the next step in the selection process is to narrow down the search area from sub-areas to location regions. BGE will underake this with the help of preliminary representative safety studies, geoscientific criteria and possibly also the application of the planning-scientific weighting criteria such as population density, nature reserves, water protection areas, floodplain areas or cultural monuments. Also within this first phase of the site selection process, BGE will draw up a site proposal for regions that could be explored above ground in phase two.

In phase two, BGE will determine locations within the framework of the surface exploration that it proposes for underground exploration. Once the underground exploration has been completed, a location needs to be found by 2031. The aim is to start storing containers of radioactive waste at the site by 2050.

Waste to be returned to Germany from UK

Meanwhile, waste resulting from the reprocessing and recycling of used nuclear fuel at the Sellafield site in the UK is to be returned to Germany. There will be three shipments to federal storage facilities in Germany, and preparations are under way to perform the first shipment in late 2020. T

he Vitrified Residue Returns programme is a key component of the UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) strategy to repatriate high level waste from the UK, fulfil overseas contracts and deliver UK Government policy.

These returns involve Sellafield Ltd working in partnership with International Nuclear Services (INS) to return the waste to German customers. INS, a subsidiary of the NDA, will perform the shipments, drawing on more than 40 years’ experience of transporting nuclear materials safely and securely around the world.

The waste will be transported by sea on a specialised vessel to a German port, then onwards by rail to the final destinations. INS has contracted with Daher Nuclear Technologies GmbH, to safely manage the overland transport in Germany.

Map showing sub-areas identified in Germany as favourable for storage of high-level waste (Credit; BGE)