Nuclear Waste Management, Safety, and Radiation Research (NUSAFE)
The Program “Nuclear Waste Management, Safety, and Radiation Research” covers safety aspects regarding the management and final disposal of nuclear waste and the operation of nuclear power plants (NPPs), using advanced experimental and computational infrastructures.
After the reactor accident in Fukushima (Japan) in 2011, the German Government decided to immediately shut down eight of the seventeen NPPs. Subsequently, the German parliament decided, with the support of a broad societal consensus, to terminate nuclear energy production in Germany, with the last NPP to be shut down in 2022. Projections indicate that about a total of 17,200 tons of spent nuclear fuel will be generated by 2022. About 300,000 m3 of low and intermediate level waste (mostly cementitious) are forecast to accumulate after the shutdown and decommissioning of all German NPPs.
There is an international scientific consensus that disposal in deep geological formations is,ultimately, the safest way to manage high level, heat producing radioactive waste so as to ensure the effective protection of people and the biosphere against radiation exposure over very long periods of time. Germany has decided to apply this concept also to the disposal of low and intermediate level waste. Waste with negligible heat generation will be disposed of in the Konrad repository, a former iron ore mine in Lower Saxony, which will go into operation in the early 2020s. However, so far, neither a host rock formation nor a site for a repository have been selected for high level heat producing waste. The new site selection act (April 2017) restarts the procedure to identify a site for the German high-level waste repository. Starting from a “white” map of Germany, and without preferring specific host rock formations, about five sites will be compared by above ground exploration and at least two sites by underground exploration. This site selection will be based on scientific criteria and a transparent procedure with public participation should be finished in 2031, providing for a site with the best possible safety.
Despite the decision to phase out nuclear electricity production in Germany, there is a strong political and societal demand to ensure Germany’s participation in international projects and organizations shaping the future safety standards regarding nuclear energy production and nuclear waste management within Europe and beyond.
The scientific challenges arising from these boundary conditions are:
- The safe management and ultimately the safe disposal of radioactive waste, which remain grand scientific, political and societal challenges to be met in the next decades;
- All aspects regarding the safety of nuclear reactors today and beyond 2022 in order to ensure their safe operation in Germany and abroad, as well as the assessment and evaluation of the safety of advanced (future) reactor types developed in neighboring countries.