The Swiss Times - Swiss News in English

The most important questions and answers on the nuclear waste repository

It has been known since September 2022 that the nuclear waste repository is to be drilled in the Zurich municipality of Stadel, more precisely in Haberstal. What has happened since then:

HOW DID THE LOCAL POPULATION REACT?

Nagra's siting decision came as a shock to the population. However, fear and skepticism quickly gave way to a pragmatic attitude among many. The decisive factor was the safety of the repository, and the waste ultimately had to go somewhere. The municipalities of Stadel, Weiach and Glattfelden are now trying to make the best of the situation. Although part of the population still rejects the repository, there is hardly any public protest. The inhabitants of Hohentengen in Germany, which is only three kilometers away as the crow flies, sound much more indignant. Once again, a Swiss problem is being shifted to the border.

HAVE REAL ESTATE PRICES COLLAPSED?

Following the location decision, Stadel briefly saw a slight dip in the real estate market. Single-family homes in particular were increasingly coming onto the market. However, the situation quickly stabilized. It is still too early for a conclusive analysis. Real estate experts expected a longer-term reduction in value of up to ten percent following the location decision.

DOES THE REPOSITORY ALSO HAVE POSITIVE EFFECTS?

The planned repository could also lead to positive development in the region. This is not least due to the compensation paid to the municipalities and cantons. According to an initial study, the nuclear power plant operators, who will have to pay this, are expecting an amount of CHF 800 million. Negotiations are due to begin in December. The repository is also likely to be the largest construction site in the country for several years, with a correspondingly large number of jobs.

WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

Nagra is currently preparing the general license applications that it intends to submit to the federal government by the end of 2024. The Federal Council and Parliament will decide on this from 2029. If a referendum is held, it will be put to a popular vote. Construction is scheduled to start in 2045. The first low- and intermediate-level waste should then be stored in around 2050. The area for high-level waste is to be put into operation around 2060.

HOW LONG DID THE SEARCH FOR A LOCATION TAKE?

Nagra has been searching for a suitable site for the storage of radioactive waste for almost 50 years. In the end, there were three potential sites: Nördlich Lägern, the Zürcher Weinland region and the Jura Ost region in Aargau (Bözberg). Nördlich Lägern was temporarily out of the running, but was then considered again as a possible site and finally selected.

WHERE IS SWISS NUCLEAR WASTE STORED TODAY?

The nuclear waste produced to date is currently still stored in halls on the surface - at the nuclear power plants themselves and in two interim storage facilities in the canton of Aargau.

WHY DO WE NEED A DEEP GEOLOGICAL REPOSITORY?

Nuclear waste is produced during electricity generation in nuclear power plants, but also in medicine, research and industry. High-level radioactive waste should not be stored on the earth's surface because no one knows how society and the earth's surface will change in the coming millennia, for example in terms of wars or global warming. The safest solution is to store it at a depth of several hundred meters. In Switzerland, rock layers made of Opalinus Clay, a gray-black shale, are suitable for this purpose.

WHAT EXACTLY SHOULD BE STORED IN THE FLOOR?

It is primarily high-level radioactive fuel elements from nuclear power plants that are to be stored. In addition, there will be low and medium-level radioactive waste such as contaminated protective clothing, pipes and insulation material from nuclear power plants, as well as waste from research, medicine and industry. The federal government expects a volume of around 90,000 cubic meters to be generated by 2075.

HOW LONG WILL THIS WAREHOUSE BE IN OPERATION?

A deep geological repository must contain the waste for tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of years until it has decayed to harmlessness. Plutonium-239, for example, which is used in the construction of nuclear weapons, takes more than 24,000 years for half of the atomic nuclei to decay (half-life).

©Keystone/SDA

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