Tag Archives: Germany nuclear waste

The Nuclear Waste Nightmare: Germany

Nuclear plant at Grafenrheinfeld, Germany. Image from wikipedia

Germany aims to phase out its nine remaining reactors by 2022, faster than almost any country. But nobody knows exactly how much it costs to shut and clean up atomic-power plants and all the facilities used over decades to store radioactive waste. Building a depository for the waste deep underground and delivering the waste add additional unknown costs…

“There are still no clear answers to many fundamental questions involving final and intermediate storage, dismantling [reactors] and transporting radioactive waste,” said Frank Mastiaux, chief executive of EnBW Energie Baden-Württemberg AG, one of Germany’s largest utility companies. “Concrete concepts have long been promised, but there is nothing yet in sight.”

Nuclear energy accounts for about 16% of German electricity production, down from a peak of 31% in 1997, according to the federal statistics office. France gets roughly 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy and the U.S. around 20%, according to the World Nuclear Association. The issue of Germany’s decommissioning became urgent in 2011, after the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima power plant, when Ms. Merkel decided to accelerate the shutdown of all German reactors by as much as 14 years, to 2022.

That move forced EnBW and Germany’s other big utilities—E.ON SE, RWE AG and a unit of Sweden’s Vattenfall AB—to book billions of euros in write-downs on nuclear assets and increase their provisions for early decommissioning of the facilities. The provisions now total about €37 billion ($40 billion).

The cost could ultimately top €50 billion, estimates Gerald Kirchner, a nuclear expert previously at Germany’s federal office for radiation protection.And that money might have to be covered by taxpayers if a power company faces insolvency or some other scenarios, the government report warned.

The energy companies are being pummeled by falling electricity demand in Europe and billions of euros in government-subsidized so-called green energy flooding the power grid. Both effects are eroding wholesale power prices, leaving conventional power stations unprofitable….
Germany isn’t alone in tackling decommissioning. The International Energy Agency says roughly half of the world’s 434 nuclear-power plants will be retired by 2040. Most are in Europe, the U.S., Russia and Japan.Despite this global trend, no country yet has a site ready for final disposal of radioactive waste.

Germany is trying to find a deep geological site suitable to store highly radioactive waste for about one million years—the time waste needs to become safe to most living organisms. The country expects about 600,000 cubic meters of radioactive waste by 2080. And that doesn’t include more highly radioactive waste slated to be shipped back soon from France and Britain, where German nuclear fuel had been sent for reprocessing…

Until a final disposal site is found, all waste will be stored temporarily. Keeping interim facilities safe is expensive. E.ON has said delays in finding a disposal site will cost the German nuclear industry €2.6 billion.Utilities have sued the German government to recover some cleanup costs, but verdicts could be years away. And their efforts face political opposition.

Excerpts By NATALIA DROZDIAK and JENNY BUSCHE, Germany’s Nuclear Costs Trigger Fears, Wall Street Journal, Mar. 22, 2015

Management of Nuclear Waste in Germany

Nuclear Power plant Brunsbüttel.  Image from wikipedia

Inspectors in northern Germany have found that a third of barrels containing radioactive waste at a decommissioned nuclear plant are damaged, the Schleswig-Holstein Environment Ministry said on Thursday.  Vattenfall, the energy company which manages the Brunsbüttel site in Schlewswig-Holstein, reported that 102 of the 335 barrels stored in the site’s six underground chambers were corroded, leaking or had loose lids.  Some of the containers are so deformed that they can no longer be moved, as they no longer fit into the robotic gripping arms installed at the site, the inspectors reported.  “The chambers are secure and there is no danger for the personnel or the local population,” Vattenfall said in a statement released on Thursday,

The Brunsbüttel site harbours 631 barrels of nuclear waste in its six chambers, which have been used for storing waste since 1979. The nuclear power plant was decommissioned in 2011.  The barrels contain resin used for water filters, residue from contaminated water and various other types of waste.

So far, Vattenfall has only inspected four of the six chambers using remote cameras.  The chambers themselves are built from concrete and have walls over a metre thick to prevent radiation escaping into the surrounding environment.  The energy company has sent a proposal to the Schlewsig-Holstein Environment Ministry for making the storage facility more secure, including by installing dehumidifiers to slow corrosion, which has yet to be approved by government experts.  “The chambers [at Brunsbüttel] were supposed to be a temporary storage facility,” Vattenfall said in a statement on Thursday. “They weren’t designed to for long-term containment.”

It was originally planned to store the barrels at Brunsbüttel until they were moved to the ‘Konrad’ mine shaft site in Lower Saxony.This permanent storage facility was to be completed by the mid- to late 90s, but has been subject to successive delays. Completion dates in 2014 has been missed and a target of 2019 is also unlikely.  The latest estimate for completion is the start of the next decade.

One in three nuclear waste barrels damaged, The Local Germany, Oct. 10, 2014

The Future of Nuclear Waste in Europe

image from http://www.posiva.fi/files/3490/pos035_demo2_ppt.jpgThe word “Gorleben” brings up some negative images in the minds of many Germans. It’s the name of a municipality in Lower Saxony and the site of a controversial nuclear waste disposal facility located there, currently used as an intermediate storage facility but intended to become permanent. For more than 30 years, nuclear energy opponents have been trying to stop the site from being turned into a deep geological repository.  And now it looks like they will be getting their way, with Germany’s federal and state governments agreeing on  draft a new law to regulate the search for a final repository.

While only a portion of Germany’s radioactive waste is currently temporarily stored away in Gorleben, the situation in neighboring countries does not look much better. Meanwhile, pressure is increasing around the world to find a permanent solution, but according to geologist Stefan Alt from the Institute for Applied Ecology in Darmstadt “it will still be at least another 20 years before this happens, optimistically speaking.”

Nevertheless, the EU has called on its member states to draw up plans by 2015 outlining how and where they are planning to store nuclear waste. The search for suitable sites is becoming frantic, but in some countries it is even more difficult than in others.

“While Germany has salt, granite and clay deposits that nuclear waste can be stored in, the options in countries like France and Switzerland are more limited,” said Alt. He added that France has been searching nearly exclusively for clay soil and has apparently managed to find something suitable.  In the village of Bure in eastern France, close to the German border, the government is examining the rock layers with the help of an underground laboratory, with a view to creating a permanent repository there by 2025.,  Unlike in Germany, there is no major public resistance against the project. “In France there hasn’t traditionally been any large anti-nuclear movement,” said Alt. “However, people who live in the direct vicinity of the repository site see the situation a bit differently, of course.”

In Switzerland, public discussion on the matter has been lively. “The more precise the suggestion for a location, the more heated the debate becomes,” said Alt. Since 2008, six potential sites have been pinpointed in the country. Germany has been allowed to provide its input in regards to those located near the German border. A referendum on the issue is being considered for 2019.

In Belgium, 55 percent of power is sourced from nuclear energy. “But Belgium is a very small country with few possibilities for permanent nuclear waste storage,” Alt said. “There is a research facility in the town of Mol, but the problem is that the clay deposits there are too small for a storage site.”  The Netherlands faces a similar problem. “There is little nuclear energy production there,” Alt said, “but there still needs to be somewhere for the waste to go.” This is why the country is looking to cooperate with others on the issue. This is something EU regulations are designed to promote,

Even so, the Netherlands has already made more progress than some of Germany’s other neighbors. “The situation in the Czech Republic hasn’t been transparent for months,” There is also opposition in the country towards the government’s plans to create nuclear storage facilities  Only the Nordic region has made significant progress in the search for permanent waste storage sites. In Finland, the first facility is already under construction on the island of Olkiluoto.  “The acceptance level among the residents is a lot higher than in Germany and neighboring countries,” said Alt. “But this is not surprising because technological awareness is very high there and there is already a nuclear power plant on the island.”

Aside from that, nuclear energy attracts very different associations in Finland than in Germany…is seen as a source of affluence and jobs.  Still, the construction of the Olkiluoto facility is facing some hurdles. Several investigations are being conducted that could potentially halt the process. At this stage it is also not clear when the facility could realistically begin operations. “A facility like this doesn’t appear overnight.”The Konrad temporary storage facility in Germany was only finished after 20 years, and the preceding considerations and planning took 30 to 40 years.

Excerpts, Christian Ignatzi,  NUCLEAR POWER: Europe searches for nuclear waste storage sites, Deutsche Welle, Apr. 14, 2014

Nuclear Power May be Gone, but Nuclear Waste is Here

Germans are starting over in their search for a permanent nuclear waste storage site. For more than 3 decades, the country has been storing its waste at a site called Gorleben, in Lower Saxony near the former border between East and West Germany. Germany has spent an estimated €1.6 billion building and testing the Gorleben facility, but the choice has long been controversial. At a meeting today between the federal environment minister and officials from the 16 German Länder (states), leaders agreed to work toward drafting a law that will govern a new search. A task force will begin work this month, and should have a draft law ready by next summer.

The search will consider sites all over the country, including Gorleben, said environment minister Norbert Röttgen at a press conference today. There will be “no taboos.” Leaders in the southern states of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, which host a majority of the country’s nuclear power plants, had long argued against a new site selection process, in part because granite and clay deposits there are likely to be on the list of possible candidates. But officials in both states now say they are open to a new search.

That offers a new opportunity, says Jürgen Trittin, former environment minister and head of the Green Party. “For the first time in 3 decades we have the chance to reach a consensus” on the issue, he told German television channel ARD. Marcel Huber, Bavaria’s environment minister told the press conference, “The geology is the deciding factor, not the geography.”

Gretchen Vogel. Germany to Look for New Nuclear Waste Site, Science, Nov. 11, 2011