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Burial of radioactive waste, Swiss “project of the century” – 04/09/2022 at 07:27

Burial of radioactive waste, Swiss “project of the century” – 04/09/2022 at 07:27

Geologist Christophe Nussbaum, head of the Mont Terri international laboratory, near St-Ursanne in Switzerland, examines an experimental tunnel for burying radioactive waste April 6, 2022 (AFP / Fabrice COFFRINI)

Geologist Christophe Nussbaum, head of the Mont Terri international laboratory, near St-Ursanne in Switzerland, examines an experimental tunnel for burying radioactive waste April 6, 2022 (AFP / Fabrice COFFRINI)

The war in Ukraine highlighted the risks of surface storage of radioactive waste. This is enough to comfort Switzerland, which is trying to bury its high – level waste deep underground, a project that is turning decisively.

“We are 300 meters underground in a dug lab” to study the burial of radioactive waste in clay, explains geologist Christophe Nussbaum, head of the Mont Terri international laboratory, near St-Ursanne in the Canton Swore.

Three sites in northeastern Switzerland, close to Germany, are in the race for this waste. Plant operators are expected to announce their preferred option in September. The government will make a decision in 2029, but opponents could launch a referendum.

The center of Mont Terri consists of 1.2 km of galleries excavated in the rock. Niches, whose walls are about 5m high are stabilized with shotcrete, perform various storage simulations, thanks to small quantities of radioactive elements monitored by thousands of sensors.

More than 170 experiments have been performed to simulate the various stages – waste sorting, gallery sealing, monitoring – and to visualize and reproduce all physical and chemical effects.

– 8,000 generations of people –

According to experts, it takes about 200,000 years – or about 8,000 generations of humans – for the radioactivity of the most toxic waste to return to its natural level.

But the researchers, Mr Nussbaum, point to an analysis of a store whose estimated lifespan is around “a million years, given the length of time a safe enclosure must be ensured”. So far the “results are positive”.

For Greenpeace, Switzerland is moving too fast. “There are dozens of unresolved technical issues: that is, the guarantee that the system will not lead to the release of radioactivity, whether in 100, 1,000 or 100,000 years”, told AFP Florian Kasser, responsible within the NGO for nuclear. issues.

“We put the cart in front of the horse because we have not solved many questions we are looking for sites”, he continues, believing that Switzerland should also first decide how to report the site so that it is not forgotten. and that the generations of the ancients were made. to become aware of the danger.

– Vision 2060 –

In Switzerland, radioactive waste has been produced for more than 50 years in power plants, and is managed by the National Cooperative Society for the Storage of Radioactive Waste (Nagra), founded in 1972 by nuclear power plant operators and the Federation.

To date, they are located in an “intermediate depot” in Würenlingen, about 15km from Germany.

Few countries are at the forefront of deep geological disposal. Only Finland has built a site (in granite), and Sweden gave the green light at the end of January for burying waste, also in granite.

Then comes France, where France is planning its Cigeo project, piloted by the National Agency for the Management of Radioactive Waste (Andra), underground storage of radioactive waste in Bure (Meuse), in clay rock. “We are awaiting confirmation of public utilities, and at the same time we will apply for a building permit,” spokeswoman Andra Emilie Grandidier explains during the visit to Mont Terri.

Following the nuclear accident at the Fukushima power station, Switzerland decided to phase out nuclear power only gradually: the four reactors used can be used as long as the power stations are safe.

Approximately 83,000 m3 of radioactive waste, including high activity elite, needs to be buried. This volume corresponds to the scenario where the Beznau, Gösgen and Leibstadt nuclear power stations would have a 60 – year operating life, as well as a 47 – year Mühleberg closure at the end of 2019.

Landfill work should begin by 2060.

“It’s a project of the century: for 50 years we have done scientific research, and now we have 50 years for the authorization and realization of the project”, shows Felix Glauser, a spokesman for Nagra.

The monitoring period will last several years before the site is sealed in the next century.

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