Switzerland’s National Cooperative for the Disposal of Radioactive Waste (Nagra) will establish two new subsidiaries to be responsible for the construction and operation of the planned deep geological repository (DGR). Nagra gTL AG will be responsible for the GDR and Nagra BEVA AG for the associated encapsulation plants. 

At an extraordinary general meeting, the members of the Nagra Cooperative unanimously decided to found these two publicly limited companies. Both companies will be wholly owned subsidiaries of Nagra.

In September 2022, following a 14-year site selection process, Nagra proposed Nördlich Lägern in northern Switzerland as the site for the DGR while a used fuel encapsulation plant will be built at the existing Zwilag interim storage facility, rather than at the DGR site. Most of Switzerland's high-level waste (HLW) is in transport and storage casks at the Zwilag facility, with some also at the interim storage facility at the Beznau NPP (Zwibez). Before its emplacement in the planned DGR, the waste will be transferred to smaller disposal canisters in the encapsulation plant.

The site selection process began in 2008 and six sites were shortlisted in November 2011. The original intention was to select sites for two repositories – one for low- and intermediate-level waste (LLW/ILW), the other HLW. The LLW/ILW repository was planned to be in operation by 2050 and the HLW repository in 2060. By 2015 Nagra had narrowed the shortlist to two siting regions – Zürich Nordost and Jura Ost placing the other four regions – Südranden, Nördlich Lägern, Jura-Südfuss and Wellenberg – in reserve.

In 2016, the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI) requested that Nördlich Lägern should also be included and that site was finally selected. Over a three-year drilling campaign which began in 2019, Nagra drilled nine boreholes across the three potential siting regions, each of which features a layer of Opalinus Clay over 100 metres thick that is very tight and solidly bedded. This Opalinus Clay layer is an important long-term safety barrier for containing the radioactive materials.

Extensive investigations had shown that Nördlich Lägern is the most suitable site with the largest safety reserves for the distant future. While the landscape at the earth’s surface will evolve, the DGR will be protected because the rock deep below the surface offers the greatest long-​term stability. In addition, Nördlich Lägern has the largest underground area suitable for construction, thus providing the greatest flexibility for the layout of the repository.

Contrary to the original plan, Nagra proposed that Nördlich Lägern should host a combined repository suitable for all types of radioactive waste. The entrance to the repository (surface facility) would be constructed in the Haberstal area in the community of Stadel in canton of Zürich.

Nagra is now preparing the general licence applications for the repository and the encapsulation plant, which it expects to submit to the Federal Council this year. The authorities and the federal government will review these applications before the Federal Council and parliament make their decisions. Approval is expected around 2030 and may be subject to a referendum.

Founding of the subsidiaries should be completed by mid-2024. The subsidiaries are expected to submit their respective general licence applications for the deep geological repository and the encapsulation plants this autumn. However, the subsidiaries will only become operationally active over the course of the next few years.