Final storage: the search gathers pace

When Germany's last nuclear power plant goes offline, there will be 17,000 tonnes of spent fuel elements from its nuclear energy installations in interim storage. What should be done with them? According to researchers at the Oeko-Institut, there is no alternative to the final disposal of high-level radioactive waste in deep geological formations. Three types of rock are suitable to host a repository: rock salt, clay stone and crystalline rock.

Unless a repository site is identified now, the problematic legacy of nuclear power generation will be left to future generations to deal with. Final storage is the best available option to minimise the risks associated with longer-term storage of radioactive waste. Although alternatives – such as transmutation – are sometimes mooted, they are not a viable solution to the disposal challenge.

The search needs to produce an outcome – specifically, the identification of a repository site – as soon as possible, but not at the expense of due diligence. This is the only way of avoiding the risks associated with long-term interim storage.

Infographs on the topic of the final storage (Flickr)  

The search for a repository site – present and future

With the Repository Site Selection Act, the German Government has put an end to decades of wrangling over the search for a domestic repository site. The Act regulates the selection of a site based on an “open-ended, scientifically based and transparent procedure”. It provides for a multi-step process in which the search is progressively narrowed down towards a site “that delivers the best possible safety”. As a key element of the process, extensive public consultation is envisaged at every stage.

On 28 September 2020, the Bundesgesellschaft für Endlagerung (BGE) – the federal company responsible for conducting the site selection process – published its Sub-areas Interim Report, in which it presents the first results of the site selection procedure. The report identifies areas in Germany where favourable geological conditions are available for the safe long-term disposal of high-level radioactive waste deep underground, as well as areas that should not be considered. The time span for the safe storage of radioactive waste is one million years.

The general public has four opportunities to consult on the Interim Report at the Conference on Sub-areas to mid-2021. The findings of these consultations will be taken into account by the BGE in the further process. The next step is then to identify siting regions suitable for surface exploration. This should identify at least two sites for subsequent subsurface exploration, based on the construction of exploratory mines. As stipulated in the Act, a decision on a site will be taken in 2031.

The search for a repository site: information and services from the Oeko-Institut

Experts from the Oeko-Institut have been working on issues relating to radioactive waste disposal for many years and provide impartial and independent information about the site selection process.

General information

Final storage – it’s all rock and rules

Extended interim storage – the technical, organisational and social dimensions

Making the final disposal of radioactive waste safe and transparent

Decommissioning and dismantling nuclear power plants


Further information