Marcos Buser and Walter Wildi
1.About the framework of the expert report
During the last two decades, some important developments in the management of radioactive waste have been initiated. On the one hand, the example of Switzerland shows that fundamental adjustments to the concepts for deep geological disposal of waste were urgently needed and that a step-by-step, experimentally supported and reversible approach is absolutely necessary. On the other hand, as we have written in our recent contribution about a trip to Sweden and Finland, the implementation of a concrete storage project is much more demanding than paper solutions suggest. Therefore one has to put in place feedback between project implementation and conception, which considers the mistakes and experiences in the implementation of projects.
The EKRA concept that was developed between 1999 and 2002, is probably one of the historically most important and, above all, most far-sighted concepts in dealing with the radioactive legacy, and for this reason, has met great public resonance and acceptance. The first conceptual clarifications, however, date back much further – to 1957. At that time, the American National Academy of Sciences reviewed the various possible disposal strategies and presented the mine concept in disused salt mines with a promising disposal option (NAS 1957); towards the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s, the Swedish SKB’s plans followed. Also, the latter is the basis of the disposal concepts pursued today by most nuclear energy-using states and is based on a mine specially constructed for this purpose (1978a, b). Finally, the EKRA concept (EKRA 2000) further added key elements to these concepts in the form of test areas and pilot plants, which provide for a review of site characteristics and longer-term monitoring of the repository with the option of retrievability. Consequently, the EKRA report no longer used the term „repository“ but introduced the term „deep geological repository“. EKRA thus adopted a demand for long-term monitoring of the geological repositories, which had been made early on by other authors (e.g. Hammond 1979, Heierli 1979) and had also found its way into the corresponding French laws under the term „réversibilité„. In this way, not only the monitoring but also the reversibility of the decisions – and thus the recoverability of the waste – became a central component of this far-sighted concept.
In Switzerland, the EKRA concept was welcomed by all important stakeholders and was thus also included in the parliamentary deliberations on the new Nuclear Energy Act (KEG) of 21 March 2003, which were going on at that time. With these two requirements – controllability and reversibility – the concept differed significantly from the previously applicable regulation under the „Federal Decree of 6 October 1978 on the Atomic Energy Act“, which required in Article 3 „permanent, safe and final disposal“ with direct closure of the repository after the waste has been disposed of.
2.Conception and legal starting position
The Expert Group on Disposal Concepts for Radioactive Waste (EKRA) was established in 1999 by Federal Councilor Moritz Leuenberger. It began its work as a result of several years of debate on the strategy for the elimination of radioactive waste, and in particular on the monitoring of radioactive waste (“Guardianship” concept versus “final underground disposal”, Buser 1988). The EKRA dealt with questions from the scientific, technological, structural and social point of view (EKRA 2000, 2002). After consultations and discussions with numerous actors from industry, administration and supervisory authority, the waste management organization and NGOs, it came to a widely accepted concept shortly after the turn of the millennium, the so-called „EKRA concept“.
The implementation of the EKRA concept is more complex and, in every respect, more demanding than that of the originally intended direct final disposal. This applies to scientific, technical, institutional, legal, organizational and, and in a broader sense, social aspects. It also entails higher costs. In return, the intended deep geological repository with long-term storage monitoring and the retrievability of the waste should offer the guarantees demanded by the society for the long-term safety of storage and no burden for future generations with the risks of either radioactive pollution or the possible expensive remediation of waste repositories.
In Switzerland, the National Co-operative for Radioactive Waste (Nagra) is entrusted with the disposal of radioactive waste. Since the 1970s, Nagra’s technical concept has been based on the model developed by the Swedish KBS (Svensk Kärnbränslehantering AB) for crystalline rocks, based on the isolation of radioactive substances by technical and geological barriers connected in series (“Multibarrier Concept”, Buser and Wildi 2015). Following the failure of the disposal option in crystalline bedrock, Nagra transferred the concept adopted from the Swedish SKB to the Opalinus Clay (Nagra 2002), with far-reaching consequences in terms of long-term safety. Another change concerned the placement of canisters of spent fuel elements in a horizontal position rather than a vertical position. It is planned that the robust waste canisters will be stored and sealed in galleries secured with special cement surrounded by a layer of bentonite (volcanic clay mineral). The massive reinforcement of the tunnels with anchors and shotcrete is a consequence of the stability problems that also occurred during the excavation of the various tunnels in the research laboratory of Mont-Terri (Canton Jura). The Opalinus Clay in which these tunnels are built forms the most important long-term protective device (barrier).
In informal discussions, representatives of Nagra and of the supervisory authority (Ensi) were never enthusiastic that the repository should first become a monitored deep geological repository according to EKRA. They were disturbed, for example, by the fact that technical safe closure could not be achieved immediately through repository monitoring and that additional monitoring measures of a long-term nature were required.
In 2009, Ensi published its „Guideline G03: Specific design principles for deep geological repositories and safety demonstration requirements“, which implements the new concept according to the Nuclear Energy Act (ENSI 2009). The Nuclear Energy Act, the Nuclear Energy Ordinance and the Ensi Guideline G03 define a so-called “pilot repository” in which a representative set of waste is stored outside the main repository and which is used for long-term monitoring. This means that the main repository can be sealed with the bulk of the waste after the waste has been disposed of and an observation phase has been completed. According to Guideline G03, the following applies: „Incidents in the pilot storage facility must not impair the operational and long-term safety of the main storage facility and vice versa“. In order to comply with this requirement, the pilot repository must be hydraulically isolated from the main repository and have its own access through the host rock. For illustration purposes, the EKRA (2000) published a schematic sketch of the implementation of this requirement (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Arrangement of the various technical elements of the deep geological repository in a schematic profile (according to EKRA 2000, then denominated „long-term geological repository“) with test repository (today: test area), main repository and pilot repository. The pilot storage facility for the long-term monitoring of radioactive waste is hydraulically isolated from the main storage facility. (P.S. the final drawing of the above figure was made in 1999 under the supervision of Dr. Anne Eckardt, currently President of the Ensi Council, by a designer from Basler & Hofmann, Zurich).
However, Nagra had little regard for the Nuclear Energy Act of 1 March 2003, which was on the horizon. Already in the 2002 “Entsorgungsnachweis” (Waste Disposal Certificate), it simply moved the pilot storage facility into the main storage facility and thus brought it under its control and supervision (Figure 2). The safety authorities accepted this fundamental change without any resistance and the Federal Council approved the project in 2006. The question of who should be responsible for the pilot facility movement to the main repository was thus implicitly answered: Nagra. With one blow, Nagra placed the unpopular pilot facility under its care and supervision. There was no discussion with the EKRA! And the safety authority remained silent.
Figure 2: Nagra deep geological repository for high-level waste in the disposal report 2002 (Nagra 2002, NTB 02-05, p. 108): reintroducing and captivating the pilot storage facility and closing it before the end of the monitoring phase (!)
In 2008, the EKRA concept became topical again as part of the review of the waste management program of the waste producers (Nagra 2008). The Federal Commission for Nuclear Safety (NSC) was also called upon to review the waste management program. In its report published in 2011, it formulated recommendations for the further handling of the EKRA concept, including the necessity to fundamentally review the storage concepts and to include the „entire spectrum of feasible concepts“ (NSC 2011). However, the NSC did not go into technical questions in more detail. The pilot facility thus remained in the main repository, as Nagra had already proposed in 2002 (Nagra 2008). Until date, none of the official institutions considered it necessary to object to Nagra and demand that the EKRA concept be implemented in accordance with the law. Even in the storage sketch published on the Internet (https://www.Nagra.ch/de/fuerhaa.htm,visited on 6 June 2019), the pilot storage facility planned for the long-term monitoring of radioactive waste is not hydraulically isolated from the main storage facility in accordance with the regulations. A fundamental review of the storage concepts, including a broad spectrum of feasible concepts, is also pending. Comprehensive risk analysis over the entire storage process was not required by the authorities (ENSI). As was to be expected from the very beginning, access to the repository via ramp is also the same (Figure 3). The concept of deep geological disposal has thus been implemented neither in accordance with the Nuclear Energy Act nor with Directive G03.
Figure 3: Design of a deep geological repository for high- and medium-level long-lived radioactive waste in accordance with Nagra (https://www.Nagra.ch/de/fuerhaa.htm , visited 6.6.2019). The test area (4) and pilot storage facility (3) and the storage facility for medium-level long-lived radioactive waste (LMA, 2) are on the same floor as the main storage facility (1). The various storage areas can influence each other in the event of an accident (flooding, fire, explosion). Thus, the design does not comply with the legal requirements.
3. The Basler and Hofmann Expertise (2018)
In view of the background described above, Peter Jost, Lorenza Sabbadin and Matthias Sommer of Basler & Hofmann (2018) were commissioned by Ensi to carry out an expertise entitled „Closure measures in crisis situations“. Specifically, it deals with the question of the risks associated with keeping the repository open within the framework of repository monitoring and with possible measures to limit the risks.
With regard to the aim of the study, the authors wrote in the summary (p. 1): „The focus of the study is on the underground construction parts of the HLW repository during the storage and observation phase and focuses on situations in which the operator or the state can no longer exercise active control over the repository. A loss of control due to a malfunction during operation or due to terrorist activities is not considered here.“ In concrete terms, it is also a matter of „gaining knowledge for the revision of the ENSI-G03 guideline“. (S.3)
A description of the repository, a scenario analysis, the characterization of the loss of control and its impact on the repository is followed by considerations on various possible measures and recommendations. The authors summarize their conclusions as follows (p. 1-2):
„The present study concludes that much has already been achieved with Nagra’s current storage concept in order to reduce negative impacts on the deep geological repository in the event of a loss of control. The authors of this study believe that further optimization is possible; corresponding measures are listed in Section 4.4. According to the study authors, however, the greatest potential for risk minimization lies in critical questioning of the process up to the closure of the main storage facility. The probability of a loss of control over the repository increases the longer the project takes to close the whole facility. The duration is determined by the observation phase, which can last several decades or even more than 100 years. The authors of this study recommend that a careful assessment be made of all the opportunities and risks of the planned observation phase, considering the risks of a possible loss of control over the repository during this phase. If the benefits of the observation phase cannot be clearly demonstrated, they recommend abandoning the observation phase and closing the whole repository as soon as possible after the completion of the storage phase. With regard to the site selection for the deep geological repository, the legal framework is also adequate from the point of view of a potential loss of control over the repository in the future. In the opinion of the authors, however, the additional framework conditions for further project development only marginally take into account the possibility of a loss of control over the waste. A critical examination and discussion of this topic, especially with regard to the construction license, could contribute to a safety-oriented optimization of the procedure for the realization of a deep geological repository“.
4. List of deficiencies
The expertise of Basler and Hofmannn (2018) can be credited with trying to analyze the processes during and after the disposal of radioactive waste and to identify possible risks for the deep geological repository. It then suggests possible technical and, to a limited extent, organizational solutions to minimize the effects of a loss of control. On the other hand, the study is fraught with many gaps and errors, even fundamental ones, which largely relativize the results and fundamentally question the study as a whole. Some of these points are pointed out.
4.1 Use of unpublished key documents for the expertise
According to Basler and Hofmann’s expertise, Nagra’s repository design concept is set out in the report „Nagra (2016): Project ‚HLW repository – requirements, framework conditions and exemplary implementation as part of the 2016 cost study, Nagra unpubl. internal report“.
This concept is a key document for the expertise and must be made public because of the requirements for verifiability – and thus the requirement for transparency. After almost 50 years of discussions about the publication requirement, the disclosure of scientific documents should definitely be regulated. Once completed, Nagra reports must be automatically published and thus made accessible. This is seen as a serious shortcoming in current publishing practice and therefore also reflects badly on Basler and Hofmann’s report.
4.2 General context and system boundaries
According to the Ensi commission, the Basler and Hofmann study is limited to the storage and observation phases of the deep geological repository, i.e. according to the authors to approx. 65 years of operation (see Figure 4). The so-called „observation phase 0“ between site selection and nuclear construction permit for the repository – i.e. another 50 years – is not part of the risk assessment. During this period, high-level waste is stored above ground in various facilities (e.g. interim storage facilities).
Figure 4: Nagra timetable for the 2016 waste management programme
Übertag = above ground; Basisdaten Kernkraftwerke = Basic data for nuclear power plants (NPP); Betrieb KKW = operation NPP; Nachbetrieb und Stilllegung KKW = Post-operation and decommissioning of NPP; Abfälle: Anfall und Zwischenlagerung = Waste: production and interim storage; BE/HAA = spent fuel/high level waste;
Untertag = underground; Lager HAA = Repository HLW; Standortwahl/Rahmenbewilligung = Site selection/general licence; EUU = Underground geological investigations; Weiterführung EUU = continuation EUU; Vorbereitung und Beginn EUU = Preparation and start of EUU; Nukleare Baubewilligung = Nuclear construction licence; Bau Lager = Repository construction; Nukleare Betriebsbewilligung = Nuclear operating licence; Einlagerungsbetrieb = waste storage (operation phase); Beobachtungsphase = observation period; Verschluss Hauptlager = Closure of the main repository; Verschluss Gesamtlager = Closure of the whole repository ; Langzeitüberwachung = long-term monitoring
Betrachtungsphase 0 = Observation Phase 0; Betrachtungsphase 1 Einlagerung = Phase 1 disposal; Betrachtungsphase 2 Beobachtung = Phase 2 Monitoring.
The study focuses on the possible loss of control through social crisis situations and several times refers to a lecture paper by Georg Klubertanz, Peter Hufschmied and Erik Frank in the year 2007, which explores questions of the self and quick-closure of a deep geological repository. According to these authors, however, the consideration of possible social collapses was only „superficial“ and led to the conclusion that such crisis situations are possible at any time (Klubertanz et al. 2007, p.3). It is therefore interesting to note that the Basler and Hofmann engineers set the crisis scenario exactly at the time when the repository is expected to close in 2090 (Figure 4). They ask then, whether long-term observation under the conditions prevailing at the time makes any sense at all (p. 10). The study recognizes the main weakness of this approach itself by stating: „A consideration of the surface installation would be appropriate in the context of a comprehensive overall study on the risks of a loss of control, which would also have to consider the topic of a possible loss of control in crisis situations at nuclear power plants and especially at ZWILAG“ (p. 10). However, ENSI is not recommended to analyze these greatest risks as quickly as possible and to draw strategic and operational consequences.
In fact, these risks are of a completely different dimension. But they are obviously ignored by our society. As long as nothing happens, you live in the best of all worlds. The principle of precaution, according to which the reduction of such major risks must have absolute priority for the society, seems to have been forgotten. In connection with the blog author’s demand to ensure significantly better secured and less risky interim storage in underground caverns, Nagra said in spring 2019 that such a request was „unfounded“. One has to ask oneself how it is possible that such obvious sources of danger are ignored in this way. The ENSI experts illuminate social crisis situations in a deep geological repository, at a time when life extensions for the remaining reactor park are being prepared for 60 years. The contradictions are so obvious and striking that one has to ask whether there are not completely different reasons behind this proposal: namely, under the pretext of „dramatized“ risks underground, to shorten the monitoring program in the deep repository or the observation phase, to weaken the legally installed control instruments and to reduce the costs of the nuclear disposal process as a whole.
4.3 Experience from existing underground radioactive and hazardous waste landfills
As described in a recent publication (Buser and Wildi 2018), underground repositories for hazardous waste and radioactive waste are characterized worldwide primarily by serious accidents and damages. Incorrect assessment of the geological conditions and the associated water infiltration, or water flooding, fire due to faulty storage practices, outrageous safety cultures, etc. were the godfathers of these failures so that as far as we know, no such facilities can be regarded as safe in the long term today. The number of cases is increasing and a large number of deep geological repositories for chemo-toxic and radioactive waste still in operation today are to be regarded as hot candidates for updating this accident history. These facts deserve special attention in the study by Basler and Hofmann (2018). And, above all, they must lead to the conclusion that such a situation should have been urgently illuminated.
Instead, the study states above all in this regard (p. 13): „Short-term control losses triggered by incidents (e.g. a fire in the repository or a water ingress in the area of the access structures) may also occur, but must be addressed in the course of the fault analyses“. As shown above, this demarcation is not tenable; in addition to obvious management shortcomings and deficits in safety culture, it is precisely such events that lead to the loss of control and the abandonment of the underground repositories.
4.4 Incorrect repository design and further design deficits
The study by Basler and Hofmann (2018, Fig. 3) follows the incorrect Nagra’s repository design and does therefore not comply with the law (Fig. 5).
Figure 5: Repository design used in the Basler&Hofmann study (2018). This interpretation, taken from an internal report by Nagra (2016), is not in conformity with the law and does conflict with the requirements of the Nuclear Energy Act, Nuclear Energy Ordinance KEV and Ensi Guideline G03.
BautunnelBetriebsschacht = Construction tunnel/Operating shaft; BE/HAA-Lagerstollen = SF/HLW storage gallery; Betriebstunnel = service tunnels; Erschliessung = access; Hauptlager = main repository; Kontrollstollen = control gallery; LMA-Lagertunnel = TRU-waste storage tunnel; Lüftungsschacht = ventilation shaft; Oberflächenanlage (OFE) = Surface plant (OFE); öffentliches Verkehrsnetz = public transport network; Pilotlager = pilot repository; Pilotlagerzugang = Access to pilot repository; Schachtkopfanlage = shaft head plant; Testbereich = test area; Umladebereich (inkl. Startstrecke Lagerstollen) = Transshipment area (incl. start section storage gallery); Zentraler Bereich = central Area; Zugangstunnel = access tunnel.
This applies in particular to the arrangement of the pilot repository, which is neither hydraulically isolated from the main repository nor has its own repository access through the host rock. These questions are mentioned in the report (p. 20). Nevertheless, the legally required repository design is not shown as the basis of the expertise.
As a result of this incorrectly chosen starting position, the Basler and Hofmann study does not include the pilot storage facility as such (i.e. with its own waste inventory) nor monitoring systems that function both in the short and long term. In some respects, this can lead to wrong conclusions, both with regard to the risks to be considered and when it comes to measures to protect the various parts of the storage galleries.
In addition, there are further questions of lay-out of the deep geological repository which should have at least been listed. For example, the access by a tunnel or „ramp“ and the water inflows to be controlled during the crossing of groundwater-bearing horizons (e.g. Malm limestone) as well as an evaluation of the safety of the various operating conditions, which has required an answer since 2011 and is described extensively in Buser (2019, pp. 155-160). If one considers the various risks to which a deep geological repository is exposed, on the one hand through access via a mobile tunnel (so-called ramp) and on the other hand through vertical or inclined mine shafts, one can doubt that the undifferentiated consideration in the expertise makes sense. In fact, no comprehensive safety analysis of these different structures is available today.
Or, the question of risk linked to the „storage galleries“ with their long, parallel „spaghetti“-like dead-end galleries. It is doubtful whether such a repository can be built and operated safely at all in the long term. Questions relevant to safety include: How do the stress redistributions during driving of the tunnels, which are several hundred meters long, affect the deformation of the surrounding repository components? What safety measures are required, in particular for the stable lining of the long tunnels? How does such a cement-stabilized repository react to the stress redistributions in an elastic storage environment? What role do the temperature pulses from the introduction of the hot waste play and how does the rigid cemented construction react? What does such a development mean for the EDZ (Excavated Damaged Zone) around the gallery walls? Can tight sealing plugs be produced under such conditions? Although the authors of the study (p. 20) wrote that the collapse of a storage gallery should not have a negative impact on the geological barrier of a neighbour, already filled storage gallery, they do not substantiate this statement. What happens, for example, when water flows into the EDZ and what does this mean for the overall stability of the system? If water is the main hazard to the storage facility (p. 21), an answer would also have to be given to what consequences such a case would have for the construction of the plant (p. 19 of the study at least raises this question), etc. Such safety questions should be answered in an open analysis and an open discourse.
Finally, the authors refer to the complexity of the installation and the resulting conflicting requirements (p. 19) and correctly conclude that an overall view of the system is necessary. They conclude with the sentence (p. 20): „Such an overall assessment must be carried out by Nagra“. There is no justification. We come back to this central question in point 4.7 of the list of deficiencies.
4.5 Undifferentiated treatment of the waste form
The conditioning of waste can influence the safety of a deep geological repository. This can happen, for example, through gas production in the repository, whether through the decomposition of organic substances in leaking containers of low-level and medium-level radioactive waste or through catalytic processes when water comes into contact with steel canisters of high-level radioactive waste. These processes are independent of the storage design. On the other hand, storage monitoring allows leaks to be detected and corrective measures to be taken if necessary. This circumstance and the general fact that errors and breakdowns occur in all major projects and in the present case do not allow any tolerance for the long-term storage of radioactive waste, should have been considered by the expertise. In this case, too, these issues would have to be fundamentally reassessed in the context of overall assessments.
4.6 Attempted liquidation of retrievability and the EKRA concept
As we saw at the outset, the retrievability of waste is a fundamental pillar of a concept for underground shipments of radioactive waste. It is enshrined in law and has not been called into question by anyone since then. Not so the authors of the report by Basler & Hoffmann, who simply „shoot down“ the retrieval, partly with outrageous arguments.
To put it simply, the authors of the report advocate the following line of argument (pp. 24-25): Since serious social crises are to be expected (example in 2090), it is best to accelerate the entire disposal process. This acceleration leads to the fact that the retrievability of waste is no longer to be considered anyway, because the ZWILAG would already have been dismantled, and thus an interim storage facility would have to be rebuilt: „For this reason alone the retrieval without great effort in the sense of a ‚quick‘ retrieval is not realistic“. (S. 24). „If there are no compelling reasons for retrieval as quickly as possible, a new disposal concept should first be brought to implementation maturity before retrieval is started.“ (p. 24). (S. 25). This does not mean otherwise that one must also dispense with a facilitated quick retrieval. With such arguments, the authors of the study obviously try to torpedo and liquidate the retrieval.
The argumentation reaches a degree of contradiction that can hardly be surpassed, as the following example shows: „After the end of the storage phase, the author of the project intends to wait about 10 years of the observation phase until the main storage facility is closed (see Figure 9). During this period, a lot of construction experience and routine will be lost as the most experienced employees retire, employees change jobs, proven machines reach the end of their lives or supply chains break off. The authors of this study, therefore, consider a direct closure of the main repository to the top edge of the host rock after the end of the storage phase to be desirable.“ With this apocalyptic approach, which has been drawn near by the hairs, one wonders how the authors of the study can at all justify the prolonged operation of nuclear power plants (60 years and possibly more), the ZWILAG and other interim storage facilities. Especially in the period up to the end of storage of the waste in the future repository in the year 2075! Even if a loss of knowledge occurs at the end of a project stage, this does not mean that society becomes incapable of action. A good technical example of the opposite is the remediation program for municipal and industrial waste. The collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite states due to the economic depression towards the end of the 20th century (World 2016) clearly shows that the world does not have to go under à priori, even in the event of serious social crises: there was no serious incident in the field of civil nuclear energy use after the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. And this at the same time as regional wars (e.g. Chechenya [1994-1996, 2004-2009], Transnistria , Georgia and Abkhazia [1992-1993], Dagestan , etc.) raged on the former territory of the Soviet Union (Wikipedia 2019).
The conclusion of such lines of argument is obvious: The Basler and Hofmann’s study – as we will also see in connection with the statement on the abandonment of the observation phase (p. 24) (point 4.7) – is clearly aimed at abolishing the far-sighted plans of the EKRA concept.
4.7 Institutional aspects and preconceived decisions
Institutional aspects play a fundamental but unfortunately underestimated role in the repository security in general and in the question of the loss of safety control. In p. 20, Basler and Hofmann’s expertise briefly discusses questions of the sovereign role of the state and the consequences of weakening this role. The general questions of organisation and responsibilities of waste producers and the state are not addressed. In particular, if account also has to be taken of the fact that, according to Article 31 of the Nuclear Energy Act (No. 1), the waste producer has ended his obligation to dispose of the waste by storing it in the repository and securing the financial resources for the observation phase and any closure. The institutional aspects of this absurd division of roles have not been thought through even once in the last 20 years if one disregards the study on sustainable structures (Buser 2016), which is still kept under wraps. It is completely absurd to change the operator of a high-risk installation in the course of its operation unless he is not up to the task. But this is precisely what should lead to the installation and maintenance of competent and strong supervisory authorities.
The same applies to the allocation of the overall assessment of a repository to Nagra’s competence, as already mentioned in point 4.4, which also fundamentally contradicts Article 31 of the Nuclear Energy Act. According to its website (https://www.Nagra.ch/de/auftrag.htm), Nagra is responsible for providing the safety certificates for the proposed sites of deep geological repositories. This mandate should be formally fulfilled with the acceptance of the general license. A reorganization must, therefore, be provided for the phases of repository construction, operation, closure and monitoring – and thus also the overall assessment of safety. In the long term, the responsibility will most probably have to be assumed by a state organization. The question remains as to when the transition from a partly private-law-parastatal to a completely public-law responsibility will take place.
Basler and Hofmann’s expertise covers the period from repository operation to closure. During this period, which is not been regulated today, the question of project organization and in particular the distribution of responsibilities is an essential aspect of repository security. Depending on the organization, certain risks identified by the expertise lose weight, while other aspects can gain in importance. An analysis of different scenarios would have been appropriate. In any case, this claim is not met. On the contrary: the authors of the study base Nagra’s claims on a comprehensive approach to waste management issues, including long-term safety issues, which, according to Art 31 of the Nuclear Energy Act, are unlikely to fall within the scope of Nagra’s competence.
It’s outrageous when an engineering firm calls on the Federal Council to prepare itself to apply emergency law and to delegate it already: „On the other hand, preconceived decisions should be adopted in order to remain capable of action for as long as possible even in emerging crisis situations. The above-mentioned list of criteria should, for example, be adopted by the Federal Council and decisions are taken as to what needs to be done when the individual criteria are met. Similar to the event management of crisis teams, the predefinition of decision chains and the taking of the necessary decisions in regular times ensures that valuable time is not lost by waiting for decisions in an emerging crisis situation. It can also reduce the risk that decisions are not taken for political reasons or because the government’s decision-making ability is lost. (S. 22).“ The Swiss Parliament should be particularly „pleased“ by such an approach and regulation. In line with the precautionary principle, it would, in any case, make more sense to transfer the inadequately protected waste in today’s interim storage facilities as soon as possible to secure underground interim storage facilities in order to better counteract social risk situations.
Finally, it should be pointed out that it is not the task of a technical engineering office to make recommendations to the designer, as is the case at the end of the report (p. 25). If so, such a recommendation should have been addressed to ENSI. It is quite remarkable that ENSI, as the safety authority, does not intervene here!
4.8. Underestimating the role of public acceptance as a factor of long-term safety
Transparency and being informed make a significant contribution to the acceptance of risk facilities. They form the basis for public trust for their operators and for the supervision of the operators. Without this trust, no disposal facility for radioactive waste will ever be built and operated in Switzerland (EKRA 2002).
Confidence in a risk facility can only arise and exist if control and monitoring can demonstrate safety. These considerations led to both the concept and, based on it, the current legal regulation in the Nuclear Energy Act, which established monitoring as an essential element of safety and recognizes it as a further fully-fledged safety barrier in addition to the technical and natural ones (Fig. 6).
Figure 6: „Measures“ (such as repository monitoring) as a so-called „active safety barrier“ for a deep geological repository (EKRA 2000, Fig. 7).
Seen in this light, the analysis and recommendations of Basler and Hofmann’s expertise do not go far enough. A program of measures does not only comprise technical regulations and higher-ranking measures and considerations with the intention of fundamentally weakening monitoring. In the words of the experts: „If over an observation period of up to 100 years, the model assumptions for the proof of long-term safety cannot be reliably confirmed or unwanted developments in the repository can be reliably identified, the authors believe that the observation phase should be dispensed with” (p.24). The objective of these lines is clear and unambiguous: social crisis situations and unverifiable models are used as an excuse to reduce the monitoring period and thus also the control of the repository so that the costs of the experiment can be reduced and the unpopular EKRA concept can finally be lowered. The fact that the Swiss waste management program, which has been producing one failure after the other for around 50 years, cannot and will not get any further in this way, this should also give Ensi some fundamental food for thought.
As can be seen from the above analysis, Basler & Hofmann (2018) deals with the aspects of safety of a deep geological repository in accordance with the Nagra (2016) project. However, the design of the repository still envisaged by Nagra today is not in conformity with the law, and not simply due to incorrect design of the pilot repository, which, as an appendage to the main repository, cannot guarantee its functions with the necessary safety. Basler and Hofmann’s expertise has numerous gaps and weaknesses that undermine the conclusions and recommendations drawn from it. In particular, the clearly formulated intention to even dispense with the so-called observation phase serves more to create a rest cushion for a responsible administration than a scientifically and ethically justifiable measure. By abandoning the observation phase and the practical integration of the pilot repository into the main repository, the retrievability of radioactive waste will also be torpedoed. This brings us back to the concept of final disposal, which was thrown overboard at the end of the 20th century. And perhaps Switzerland will again be faced with the question of how to deal with its radioactive waste where the „Wellenberg Project“ stood shortly after the turn of the millennium: namely before the next crash.
The report by Basler and Hofmann does not only do great damage to the cause itself. The authors have also leaned far too far out of the window with their statements, which are far beyond their area of competence since they cannot in any way demonstrate expertise in historical and political sciences or as risk specialists. Is the report a smoke petard that is ignited to sound out the mood in the country? It is not the only peculiar signal currently being sent out by the authorities and Nagra. In conclusion, we can only recommend that the safety authority withdraws the Basler and Hofmann report it has commissioned as soon as possible and definitively from circulation and – if it does – present an analysis that not only respects the legal basis but is also consistent in terms of content and subject matter.
And last but not least, two remarks:
- First to Ensi: wouldn’t it be better to have such sensitive scientific and social issues dealt with by an interdisciplinary team of independent social scientists, natural scientists and engineers?
- And the second to DETEC twenty years after EKRA and after the numerous mishaps in the sectoral plan: wouldn’t it be time once again to have the entire concept, including governance of the project and safety culture, reviewed by an expert commission of scientists? It was precisely under such conditions that the EKRA Commission was able to develop the corresponding concepts with all scientific independence and to the general satisfaction of society.
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