Completion of Germany’s Konrad repository delayed

16 June 2023

While Germany’s Konrad repository is nearing completion, there are still some hurdles to overcome, according to the Federal Association for Final Storage (BGE - Bundesgesellschaft für Endlagerung). Construction activities for the Konrad repository are well advanced but completion by 2027, which has been the plan since 2017, can no longer be achieved.

BGE is converting the former Konrad iron-ore mine in Salzgitter, Lower Saxony, to be the first repository for low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste (LWL-ILW). The final disposal of up to 303,000 cubic metres of LWL-ILW is set to begin in the early 2030s. The emplaced containers will be immobilised with suitable concrete and securely sealed during emplacement operations. Once operations are complete, all cavities of the mine will be backfilled and sealed to ensure long-term safety.

All new buildings on the Konrad 1 site have been built. Konrad 1 is the conventional part of the repository. All cavities underground necessary for its operation have been opened and their expansion is almost complete. With the commissioning of the construction site for the day care centres on Konrad 2, the repository is now on the home strait, BGE noted. Waste will be accepted via the Konrad 2 operating section, transported underground and stored there. This is key to the disposal strategy for the dismantled materials from closed NPPs and nuclear research facilities.

Conversion of the former iron-ore mine is an elaborate process. For example, the two shafts need to be renovated and equipped with the necessary infrastructure underground. Among other things, this infrastructure includes transport galleries and the emplacement areas at a depth of around 850 metres. Above ground, construction work is underway on new buildings. These include a reloading hall, where the waste containers of low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste with low heat generation will subsequently be delivered and prepared for transport underground.

There are three reasons for the delay:

  • BGE has taken longer to redesign the contractual relationships with the central contractors than expected.
  • BGE underestimated the task of updating safety requirement in the nuclear regulations against earthquakes.
  • The necessary approval procedures under nuclear law have taken longer than was scheduled.

The technical managing director of the BGE, Dr Thomas Lautsch said: “We have seen several times when we underestimated the complexity of tasks. This applies in particular to Konrad 2. However, we are confident that we can meet this challenge with the support of our contractors.” BGE hopes that the responsible supervisory and approval authorities will quickly review and approve further procedures. The Konrad 2 shaft is the biggest challenge and BGE has concluded that the work is delayed by about two years.

In future, BGE will pay particular attention to possible changes in the safety-related regulations for the completion of the repository in order to be able to react faster. In particular, the BGE said it will endeavour to record specific requirements in continuous dialogue with the contractors and the authorities and to submit the relevant documents. In particular, the BGE will seek to optimise the implementation of mining and nuclear law in dialogue with the authorities.

With regard to the application made by two environmental associations to the Lower Saxony Ministry of the Environment to withdraw or revoke the approval for the Konrad repository, BGE is confident about the legality of the approval. The Ministry of the Environment in Hanover will announce a decision on the application at the end of 2023.

In 2002, the Lower Saxony Ministry for the Environment announced a positive “planning approval decision”. Following multiple legal proceedings, this licence was confirmed by the Federal Administrative Court in 2007. Since then, there have been constant advances in science and technology, and BGE has therefore commissioned external contractors to review whether the safety-relevant requirements are still in line with current standards. The insights obtained will be incorporated into the planning and the construction of the repository. The experts have already identified a number of areas where adjustments are needed, some of which are relevant to safety of the repository. However, no fundamental safety deficiencies were identified, BGE said.

Image: 3D graphic of what the Konrad repository should look like after its completion (courtesy of BGE)

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