In Germany, after many years of preparation, a concrete process has begun to finally get rid of the consequences of the prolonged and intensive use of nuclear energy. Judging by the collisions and debates that accompany it, this country's path to a nuclear-free future will be as thorny as it will be long.
The German Federal Company for the Disposal of Radioactive Waste (BGE) has published a report that indicates potential locations for the construction of a permanent repository for high-level radioactive waste accumulated at the local nuclear power plants for 62 years. Today, we are talking primarily about 1900 huge containers containing 27 cubic meters of spent reactor rods and the like, making up only 000% of all nuclear waste in Germany, but containing 5% of their radioactivity.
Let me remind you that the final decision on the phased complete abandonment of nuclear energy until 2022 was made by the German government 9 years ago, after the nuclear disaster in Fukushima. Now most of the nuclear power plants in the country have already been shut down, and the share of electricity generated by them is only 11,3%. It would seem that the denouement is close, but the question remains open to this day about where the ominous waste of this industry should find its last refuge. According to the plans declared by the government, the site for the country's main nuclear repository should be finally determined by 2031, and its operation should begin in 2050.
I must say that this topic is quite painful for Germany. Everyone has a fresh memory of the example of Gorleben, a small settlement in Lower Saxony of 650 inhabitants, where an attempt was made to house a nuclear waste repository in a nearby former salt mine in 1977. The local residents were not at all imbued with the need for such a neighborhood, and, despite their own small number, they launched such a powerful protest that the place soon turned into the center of the anti-nuclear movement for the whole of Germany. The police got tired of fighting with the activists chained to the railroad tracks, and the authorities, tired of the demonstrations, surrendered.
The decision to locate a nuclear repository in Gorleben was officially recognized as "fraught with administrative deficiencies and non-transparent planning." In order to avoid such excesses in the future, the German government in 2013 introduced a law on the search and selection of a nuclear waste storage facility. After that, according to all the rules, a commission of experts was created, which in 2016 developed a plan for how this very search should be carried out.
One of the main aspects of this plan was the “blank map” principle: every region of Germany is considered as a potentially suitable storage location. Everyone has equal chances in this unpleasant lottery. Well, except that the brawlers from Gorleben were excluded from it a priori out of harm's way, saying that the mine there still "does not meet the criteria."
According to the aforementioned BGE report, possible sites for the construction of a radioactive waste storage facility, which will last at least a million years, are 90 territories, which occupy more than 54% of Germany's territory. The director general of this organization, Stefan Studt, at a press conference, said very optimistically:
Germany is excellently suited for storing highly radioactive waste due to its geological conditions.
However, Herr Studt's enthusiasm is not shared by all of his compatriots in 16 federal states, who will have to participate in the "nuclear lottery".
Thus, representatives of the Bavarian government have already made a statement that "Bavaria is not a suitable place for the last nuclear storage." And they offered to "take a closer look" at the long-suffering Gorleben ... Criticism of the "report written behind closed doors" was also made by the activists of the organization BUND (Friends of the Earth of Germany), who believe that public opinion was "not sufficiently taken into account" in its preparation.
Jochen Stey, a spokesman for the anti-nuclear nongovernmental organization Ausgestrahlt, also spoke very skeptically about the prospects for a future final choice, recalling that "today more than half of all wind farms are out of operation due to citizens' protests," and when it comes to highly radioactive waste, the scale of protests can be completely unpredictable.
Be that as it may, Federal Minister of the Environment Svenja Schulze expressed her belief that "political motives should not be allowed to influence the search for a permanent repository in any way, while deviating from a strictly scientific approach." A similar opinion was expressed by the head of the BGE, who believes that "politicians are obliged to support the law with which they have agreed, and not to make comments that undermine public confidence in the procedure." Sounds right, but how will it turn out in reality?
The procedure, which starts at the current stage of the project (starting from October 2020), is even more ambitious than everything that preceded it. The initial report will be subjected to a thorough analysis of “citizens and stakeholders” at several so-called regional conferences. The BGE results in the next report, followed by ... further study. The federal parliament (Bundestag) and representatives of the states (Bundesrat) will also take an active part in the case, without whose approval no construction will begin. In total, a whole decade is allotted for these procedures, but is even such a period sufficient, given the importance and urgency of the issue?
Be that as it may, Germany still has a chance to become the first state to create a permanent and eternal necropolis for a peaceful atom. Today, despite decades of operation of nuclear power plants around the world, officially there is not a single such place on the planet.