Issue: July 2021, Another 30 years to go – The final storage of high-level radioactive waste


A new yet familiar role

Editorial by Jan Peter Schemmel, CEO, Oeko-Institut

Where nuclear energy is concerned, we have come a long way since the Oeko-Institut was founded more than 40 years ago. The nuclear phase-out was finally agreed; Germany’s remaining reactors are due to be shut down next year. A science-based, transparent, participatory and stepwise procedure is now in place to identify a site for a repository. Our researchers’ expertise is therefore still in demand. For more than four decades, they were the first to provide independent scientific analyses that the anti-nuclear energy movement could rely on. Today, they feed their independent expertise into the public participation formats that are part of the site selection process. They also support the process by providing studies of their own, and they help to interpret the statements contained in technical reports. Many of the issues being addressed in this process are far removed from our day-to-day experience, so anyone wishing to engage appropriately needs support and assistance in understanding the science.

We face a monumental task: to set up a repository that can safely store high-level radioactive waste for at least one million years. It is a challenge replete with potential for social conflict. Opposition to the project is already stirring and will undoubtedly increase once the number of potential sites is narrowed down. There is therefore no alternative to this broad-based participation process. It is a process that must prove its worth at every stage, which is why the decision in favour of a self-reflecting learning procedure is so important. It is also essential to manage generational change on this issue efficiently and ensure that there is no loss of knowledge and expertise. We are pleased that at the Oeko-Institut – with our experienced team members and our younger and more recent appointees – we are able to make an important contribution here.

In her article in this issue of eco@work, Julia Neles, who took over as Deputy Head of the Oeko-Institut’s Nuclear Engineering & Facility Safety Division in March 2021, addresses a topic which, in view of the geological and societal challenges associated with final storage, was sharply criticised early on: the fact that nuclear energy generation began while the legacy issue was still unresolved. It was a mistake that we must not repeat, and it warns us that whenever new technologies are adopted, it is essential to be mindful of their impacts, no matter how clean and sustainable they may, on the face of it, appear to be. This has been the Oeko-Institut’s mission for more than 40 years – and will remain so. I hope you will continue to support us!


Jan Peter Schemmel

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