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IAEA Mission Says Germany Committed to Safe, Responsible Waste Management, Sees Areas for Further Enhancement

38/2019
Cologne, Germany

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team of experts said Germany is continuing to manage its radioactive waste and spent fuel in a safe and responsible manner. The team also noted opportunities for improving the monitoring of the implementation of the national programme for radioactive waste and spent fuel management (the National Programme) and for achieving transparency in some reporting and regulatory processes.

The Integrated Review Service for Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management, Decommissioning and Remediation (ARTEMIS) team concluded a two-week mission to Germany on 4 October. The team comprised eight experts from Finland, France, Italy, Luxemburg, Sweden, the UK and the USA and four IAEA staff members.

The mission was requested by the Government of Germany. The main German counterpart organization was the Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und Nukleare Sicherheit, BMU (the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety). The team visited and interacted with representatives from a wide range of federal and regional authorities and other organizations.  

ARTEMIS missions provide independent expert advice from an international team of specialists convened by the IAEA. Reviews are based on IAEA safety standards and technical guidance as well as on international good practices.  Germany plans to use the mission to fulfil its obligations under a European Council directive that requires EU member states to invite international peer reviews of their national programmes for the management of radioactive waste and spent fuel. A staff member from the European Commission attended the mission as an observer.

Germany has decided to stop generating electricity from commercial nuclear power plants by 2022. The country has over 30 nuclear power plants and other nuclear facilities, whose decommissioning will create a significant amount of radioactive waste. Germany is also making plans to retrieve radioactive waste from the Asse II former salt mine. The waste will need to be stored until it can be safely disposed.

Currently, Germany does not have an operating radioactive waste disposal facility. The Morsleben disposal facility has stopped receiving waste and is being closed. A new disposal facility for low and intermediate level waste is being constructed at the site of a former iron ore mine at Konrad. A nationwide search has begun to find a site for a disposal facility that could receive various types of radioactive waste, including high level waste (HLW).  

The ARTEMIS team said Germany has a mature legal and regulatory framework for the safety of spent fuel and radioactive waste management. The team highlighted the professionalism and commitment to safety of all organizations involved in the implementation and oversight of the National Programme.

The ARTEMIS team identified the involvement in the site selection process of an independent mediating body comprised of prominent people and other citizens (Nationales Begleitgremium) as a good practice.

“Germany has an important programme of radioactive waste management and decommissioning. Many lessons have been learnt that will help the international community,” said ARTEMIS team leader Patrick Majerus, head of Luxembourg’s Department of Radiation Protection at the Ministry of Health.

However, the team noted that the planned completion by 2031 of the site selection process for the disposal facility that could receive HLW represents a significant challenge. Germany plans to site, license, construct and begin to operate this facility by around 2050. The retrieval of radioactive waste from the Asse II mine is another significant challenge, the team said.  

The team provided recommendations and suggestions for further enhancements, including:

  • The Government should establish an improved process for monitoring progress in implementing the National Programme.
  • The Federal Company for Radioactive Waste Disposal (BGE), in consultation with the Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management (BfE), should consider making public the approach to applying site selection criteria in the search for a site for a disposal facility that could receive HLW.  
  • The BMU should update the cost assessment for the entire National Programme and include the costs for waste retrieval from the Asse II mine.

“Germany has pledged to conduct its work towards radioactive waste disposal in a self-questioning manner and with a mindset of continuous learning. Therefore, we highly appreciate the input and constructive dialogue during the ARTEMIS mission. Their recommendations and suggestions help us to maintain a high level of safety.” said Philip Borck, Head of Project Management Department, BGE.

“This peer review was conducted by a team with a wide range of knowledge and expertise,” said Wolfgang Cloosters, Director General for Nuclear Safety and Radiological Protection at the BMU. The outcome of the mission was positive while also providing us with findings that will be a good basis for future improvements.”

Peter Johnston, Director of the IAEA ‘s Division of Radiation, Transport and Waste Safety, said Germany’s counterparts were well prepared for the mission and transparent in their discussions. “This mission provides feedback that should help further improve the development and implementation of country’s radioactive waste-management programme”, he said.

The final mission report will be provided to the Government in about two months.

About ARTEMIS

ARTEMIS is an integrated expert review service for radioactive waste and spent fuel management, decommissioning and remediation programmes. This service is intended for facility operators and organizations responsible for radioactive waste management, as well as for regulators, national policy makers and other decision makers.

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