Storage of radioactive waste

Oeko-Institut (Institute for Applied Ecology) conducts research and provides advice on the following issues in the field of storage of radioactive waste:

Temporary storage: Requirements for a short-term solution

The operation of nuclear power plants results in spent fuel elements, waste from reprocessing and operational waste with a lower level of radioactivity. All radioactive waste must be stored safely over many decades. As a result both the storage facilities and the waste packages have to fulfil specific requirements.

Our work focuses on the technical requirements which the waste, the packing and waste packages as well as the storage buildings must fulfil. In addition we address different organisational issues which are important to enabling safe management of handling waste from its origin to its permanent disposal. This includes the management of ageing effects, e.g. of technology and infrastructure, or the organisation of maintaining appropriate knowledge and skills over many decades.

Permanent disposal: Searching for long-term solutions

In Germany all forms of radioactive waste are to be disposed of in deep geological formations. In view of the permanent disposal of heat-generating waste in particular (most notably, highly radioactive waste and spent fuel elements), various questions have to be addressed in the process leading to implementation of such a permanent disposal site.

We contribute to answering both scientific and technical questions relating to permanent disposal and the associated socio-scientific and societal aspects. For example, we provide recommendations for the search procedure for a suitable permanent disposal site. We contribute to the development of safety criteria, on the basis of which a disposal site can be objectively and comprehensibly assessed.

We also elaborate methodological suggestions – for example, relating to the consideration of chemical toxic substances subject to the German Federal Water Act in the search procedure for permanent disposal sites.

Dismantling: After the nuclear phase-out – what next?

After the nuclear power plants in Germany have been shut down, they have to be dismantled. This process of dismantling usually takes about 20 years and encompasses many challenges such as the logistics of waste flows and the disassembling of contaminated building structures.

We support the regulatory bodies in dismantling projects in Germany (e.g. for the nuclear power plants at Rheinsberg and Lingen), in environmental impact assessments, and in expert assessments of the progress of dismantling. A crucial task in this context is to remove radioactive contamination in buildings and, where appropriate, to conduct subsurface explorations, assess the contamination and have it removed.

Uranium mining: The handling of contaminated sites

In Germany uranium mining has had a deep impact and causes great environmental damage worldwide, particularly in developing and newly industrialising countries. In these countries insufficiently safe mining sites sometimes include dangers for the local population.

For many years we have been addressing the long-term liabilities of uranium mining in Germany. Our work focused on the assessment of exposure of the local population to radiation, e.g. use of the areas after rehabilitation. Our researchers approach global uranium mining from a critical viewpoint and call for qualified handling of related environmental problems in numerous expert reports.

Underground storage: Chemical toxic waste and CCS

If waste is deposited underground, it has to be clarified whether chemical substances could contaminate the groundwater; compliance with legally defined groundwater protection is the main priority. Oeko-Institut assesses the safety of possible storage options for chemical toxic waste.

We are also researching the opportunities for and restrictions on the storage of large quantities of CO2 in deep geological formations (Carbon Capture and Storage or “CCS” for short) and are participating in the development of corresponding regulations.