Landslide in evaporitic rocks of Val Canaria (Ticino): at this place Nagra planned in the 1970-ies an exploration tunnel for a final deposit for low level nuclear waste
Radioactive waste management in Switzerland: A step forward, a step backward
Walter Wildi and Marcos BUSER
(Former President and member of the EKRA 1999 – 2002)
Forty-nine and a half years ago, on 24 December 1969, Beznau 1 was the first commercial nuclear power plant in Switzerland to be connected to the electric grid. Half a year later, one of the blog authors made the first geological surveys of exploratory boreholes and mine caverns in the search of a repository for radioactive waste in gypsum and anhydrite rocks in the Tabular Jura mountains of northern Switzerland. The excavations proved to be unstable and the project failed. A similar project was also carried out in Val Canaria, in Ticino, where today a landslide covers the place where a tunnel into the underground of the Val Piora was planned. The “Gewähr 1985″ project, which was intended to store high-level radioactive waste in the crystalline basement of northern Switzerland and low-level radioactive waste in alpine marls, did not do better. And the failure of these projects was twofold:
– Scientifically: The geology of Switzerland proved to be less favourable for the planned project than originally assumed by the project team.
– Socially: After all the unsuccessful attempts, doubts about a safe geological repository grew in the society.
The Wellenberg project is a prime example of both factors: originally regarded by all official bodies as a safe site, safety began to waver as time went on (our blog of 19 June 2015). Even for the possibility that this is the location of possible epicentres of local earthquakes, scientific data is available today. Conclusion: The population rightly rejected the project in September 2002 against the majority of the scientific community.
The social requirements emerging towards the end of the last century that radioactive waste should be controllable for as long and as far as possible, and that it should be possible to retrieve waste from a repository if necessary, have meanwhile proven to be justified and unavoidable as a result of numerous incidents in underground storage sites. Without monitoring and retrievability, no disposal project can be imagined in the future. With the so-called “EKRA-Concept” and its incorporation into the 2003 Nuclear Energy Act, Switzerland has created an early and good standard and starting point for this scientific and social challenge. However, there remains a serious question of its adoption and full implementation by the waste management organization and the supervisory authority. And, as the following analysis of a Basler & Hofmann report shows, the forces that want to turn back the wheel of time and knowledge in both organisms to “good old” final disposal are still strong and still at work. And this even beyond evidenced scientific arguments, such as resource conflicts and other risks. It is now really time to finally and definitely turn our backs on these completely outdated “Stone Age” concepts of “final” storage.