The Netherlands’ Central Organisation for Radioactive Waste (Covra) in the Sloe area near Vlissingen said on 20 May that, after a construction period of five years, the new section of the high-level radioactive waste treatment and storage building of the (habog) was officially opened.

Since the early 1980s, Covra has been processing and storing nuclear waste from the nuclear power station in Borssele, research reactors, laboratories, hospitals, the chemical industry, civil engineering and the offshore industry. Following government decisions to keep the   Borssele NPP and the research reactors in Petten and Delft open for longer, a capacity expansion was necessary to store the nuclear residual material that these companies produce, Covra said.

In 2018, a start was made on the realisation of an extension to the existing habog. In the armoured and highly secured new space, a total of 50 cubic metres of radioactive waste can be stored in hermetically sealed concrete shafts. Together with the 110 cubic metres of waste that is already stored in the existing habog, the total storage capacity of the Covra complex thus totals 160 cubic metres.

Director Jan Boelen of the Covra said the building is very robust, protecting the outside environment very well from the radiation levels from what is stored inside the bunker. "The concrete walls of the building are 1.70 meters thick," he noted. He added that more than half of the structure consists of concrete. “About 8,000 cubic metres of concrete has been incorporated. In addition, it also contains 1200 tons of steel. The concrete bunker is so solidly constructed that it can withstand extreme situations such as an earthquake, a flood, a storm, gas explosion, terrorist attack and even a crashing plane. I think I can say that this is one of the safest buildings in our country.”

In a video message, Finance Minister Sigrid Kaag said that the extension at Covra is also in line with the cabinet's intentions to take steps towards the construction of two new NPPs. She said a responsible application of nuclear technology now and in the future is only possible if the waste is properly managed.

Boelen said he expects the habog to last at least until the end of the next century. But before that, in 2100 the government in power will have to decide on the final disposal of high-level radioactive waste which may then be permanently stored in a deep disposal repository.

In addition to being a storage building, the habog is also a work of art. The building is painted orange, but every 20 years it will be painted a shade lighter, symbolising the decay of the radioactivity of the preserved material. Eventually, when the building will be completely white.