Publication Laka-library:
The world nuclear waste report - Focus Europe

AuthorHarms, Mycle Schneider, Jungjohann, Turmann
DateNovember 2019

From the publication:


More than 40 years ago in my home region, the forest near the village of Gorleben was chosen as the
location for the German National Nuclear Waste Disposal Center. The site, which is now at the country’s
center but at the time was located directly on the border between East and West Germany, was meant
to host all facilities for reprocessing, treatment, storage, and a deep geological repository. The company
responsible (which has long since closed) intended to open the repository for spent fuel in the salt dome
named Gorleben-Rambow in 1999.

After Fukushima, the German government decided to phase out nuclear energy for the second time.
The experience of the nuclear catastrophe in Japan in 2011 also set in motion the review of the plans for
the repository at Gorleben. After around 40 years of debating and fighting over Gorleben, the German
government and parliament decided in favor of a new participatory site selection process for the repos-
itory for high-level nuclear waste. Looking back at the last 40 years and forward over the many decades
until a repository might be available illustrates the difficulties for humankind to cope with the eternal
legacies of nuclear energy. Considering the 40-year history of attempted disposal at Gorleben, and the
many problems and challenges we now know about, it is unrealistic to expect the commissioning of a
repository before the second half of this century.

Germany is not the only country in search of a suitable repository or facing difficult decisions about
nuclear waste. For the last 15 years, as a member of the European Parliament, I followed the attempts
at phasing out nuclear energy in and outside of the European Union. An important initiative came from
Mycle Schneider, Paris, who suggested refuting the fairytale of a global nuclear renaissance. He and his
team of authors release the yearly World Nuclear Industry Status Report, which proves that renewable
energy is defeating nuclear power both because of tremendous risks of nuclear technology, and because
of its high price. During the presentation of the status report in recent years, we had more and more
questions about the absence of the nuclear waste issues, especially since these issues are also a factor
for the costs of nuclear power. In the past years I also followed the European Commission’s efforts to
establish a better overview and a common framework for decommissioning, nuclear waste management,
disposal, and financial provisions.

The recurring questions and the disappointing outcome of the European Commission’s initiative moti-
vated me to tackle this challenge with the idea of the WORLD NUCLEAR WASTE REPORT (WNWR).
In this first edition our team of European experts describes the technologies, strategies, preparatory
processes, and financial provisions for disposal. We are convinced that information from national con-
texts should be both better accessible and comparable. In spite of international conventions on nuclear
waste, even categories for waste classification differ from country to country.

   Deep geological disposal is one of the most ambitious
   and most difficult tasks on earth.

The specific risks of nuclear waste require a safe enclosure for one million years. In addition, disposal
strategies promise the possibility of retrieval and recovery at least for a limited period. The carelessness
and the hubris in the nuclear industry and in pro-nuclear governments around the risks of nuclear waste
have created mistrust rather than confidence among citizens. We face a difficult task ahead: the search
for the best possible and most responsible solution. Addressing this task demands from society, politi-
cians, citizens, science and industry to be more open and patient, money, and willing to admit mistakes
and failures and to rethink approaches and strategies. This applies to all countries which have used
nuclear energy or which are nuclear arms states.

This first edition of the WNWR covers a broad range of key issues on the topic and grew much longer
than initially planned; yet it is obviously not fully comprehensive. Funding limits define its scope in part.
But it is also due to the fact that we did not have access to full data and qualified authors for all coun-
tries. We plan the WNWR as a periodical that should be regularly updated, expanding on new themes
and covering more countries in the future. Future issues could include important and under-researched
issues like bottlenecks of interim storage and the comparison of immediate dismantling versus safe
confinement after the final shutdown of nuclear power plants. The latter question emerges when large
nuclear power plants are decommissioned without available storage and disposal capacities, as is the
case in Germany. In all countries the amount of nuclear waste is growing, the capacities for storage are
limited, final disposal is not yet available and the costs for managing the waste are rising. Some govern-
ments respond to this challenge by weakening standards for the industry, for example lowering the lev-
els for when waste from decommissioning must be classified as radioactive. This clearance of fractions
of the waste by free measurement should be also an issue of the next volume.

Among our current group of authors, the majority favors deep geological disposal for high-level waste
if it is tied to clear and ambitious conditions for the site selection, exploration, and approval processes.
There is a strong consensus that the current research and the scientific debate and exchange with pol-
iticians and involved citizens is severely insufficient. In spite of the support for deep geological disposal
we are convinced that the debate on alternatives should not be avoided and that this issue deserves
more attention, likely in the next volume. Currently there is no guarantee for the feasibility of the in-
tended deep geological repositories. All in all, while the work on this first edition of the World Nuclear
Waste Report is completed, I see many issues to be addressed in future volumes.

After working on nuclear waste issues and the German site selection process since 1975, I have to as-
sume that it will take still several generations before a repository which is based on the best available
solutions could be opened and operating. That is why I think it is our duty to pass to the next generation
some experience and knowledge which we as critics of nuclear power have gained so far. It is the next
generations which will bear the responsibility for finding a solution for nuclear waste, the eternal legacy
of the short nuclear age. In the making of this report I see the cooperation of old and young as a valuable
contribution to the generational change. A critical debate and reflection must be integrated part of the
search for the best available and feasible solution for disposal of nuclear waste. The process must always
be focused on solutions. We can phase out nuclear power, but we cannot phase out the nuclear waste
and its eternal risks.

My thanks and appreciations go to all our authors, contributors and all those who supported us with
work, knowledge, and funds.