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discovered_02_2015 - Germany is up to the task; the storage of highly radioactive waste

WWW.HZDR.DE discovered 02.15 TITLE Chemical engineer Michael Sailer is CEO of the Oeko-Institut, with offices in Freiburg, Darmstadt, and Berlin. Before taking this position in 2009, he led the institute's division "Nuclear Technology and Plant Safety". He has contributed his expert knowledge on the topics of reactor safety and the storage of nuclear waste to several commissions: He is the chairman of the "Nuclear Waste Management Commission" that advises the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety and is a member of the "Commission for the Storage of Highly Radioactive Waste," which is usually referred to as the "Repository Commission" for short. He was also a member of the "Reactor Safety Commission" for 15 years. As he emphasizes in his interview for "discovered", informing the public is important to him: "Science has an inherent duty and obligation. We have to explain scientific results to the public in general and politicians in particular, but we also have to clarify why there are different viewpoints for a certain topic." For him reactor safety is a prime example of this. For a long time there was simply one pro and one contra perspective on the subject. "Today it is really important to me to inform others of the risks and not to polarize them. We must provide this information to society in such a way that people are able to use it to make important decisions." Mr. Sailer, when will a repository for radioactive waste be put into operation in Germany? If we really pull ourselves together, the first container of highly radioactive waste could find its way "under the Earth" between 2045 and 2050. All of the highly radioactive waste from Germany would fit in a single repository. For low to medium radioactive waste yielded from the operation of nuclear power plants as well as from medical or research institutions, the approved repository Schacht Konrad will be opening in a few years. But let's get back to highly radioactive waste, which by law has to be safely stored for one million years. The decision of where to put the facility will be made following a nationwide, incremental selection process in 2031. It would then be possible to obtain a building permit for such a geological underground storage facility after 2035. From the research that has been done we know by and large how repositories work. What's really important, however, is that all essential powers work in concert to realize the facility. What special challenges do you see arising for research institutions? Germany has a big nuclear waste disposal problem and it isn't glaringly apparent yet, but over the next few years it will reach fever pitch. There aren't enough trained professionals to meet demand. The problem is twofold. On the one hand we need an education initiative at universities and research establishments in order to get the right people in the right place at the right time. The selection process alone will require a great deal of expertise, but the situation will get really desperate in 2031 when it's time to start with concrete preparations for the construction of a repository for highly radioactive waste. Where will the experts familiar with repository research who can carry out safety studies, safety reviews, or analyses of scientific findings be? There will be a need for experts to work for repository operators, but there will also be plenty of demand in authorization agencies, federal offices, or ministries - and at inspection agencies as well. On the other hand it is essential that research efforts be bundled. The topics that the Gesellschaft für Anlagen- und Reaktorsicherheit, GRS (Association for Facility and Reactor Safety), together with a total of three Helmholtz centers and some select universities, are working on are very important. But I doubt that they will succeed in systematically addressing all questions related to the transport and containment of radioactive materials. In the repository search process, especially when the time comes to choose a concrete location, there are always more and increasingly detailed questions to answer. How exactly do the radioactive substances spread? How does the specific geological situation influence mining operations underground? What microorganisms live there and what role might they play in containment? Is more research needed in Germany? The reality is that repository research is financed by a variety of different sources. Three different federal ministries for different sectors have support programs. I would argue in favor of better coordination and integration of the programs. _Interview . Christine Bohnet GERMANY IS UP TO THE TASK; THE STORAGE OF HIGHLY RADIOACTIVE WASTE