Geology is a well paying area

Nuclear power & repository: Why 90 sub-areas are suitable for a nuclear waste repository

With the exception of Saarland, the areas are spread across all federal states. The BGE has identified nine sub-areas in claystone, 74 areas in salt rock and seven in crystalline. BGE maps show that northern Germany, the eastern German states as well as Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg are particularly suitable.

The Gorleben salt dome in Lower Saxony has not become a sub-area after applying the geoscientific weighing criteria - and thus out of the further process. However, the region is not completely left out: there are clay formations in the area that could be considered, according to the BGE.

Gorleben will not become a repository for nuclear waste

There was resistance to Gorleben in the region for decades. The salt dome was explored for several decades, always accompanied by strong protests.

The investigations were first interrupted and finally canceled. The BGE explained that the salt dome has, among other things, a non-intact overburden, which speaks against the location. When asked, BGE managing director Steffen Kanitz emphasized that the decision was purely scientific and that there was no political pressure. Gorleben had taken the hurdle in the first examination of the minimum geological requirements, but did not show a “favorable overall situation”.

"The end for Gorleben is a decision based on the criteria that the law provides for site selection," said Lower Saxony's Environment Minister Olaf Lies (SPD) on Monday in Hanover. “The decision to go to Gorleben in the seventies was a political one. That has now been confirmed again emphatically, ”Lies emphasized. "At this point, the technical and scientific facts speak a clear language."

In contrast, Bavaria's Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU) criticized the decision. "If you want to have a broad discussion, the question remains why you fundamentally exclude Gorleben," he said. The BGE did not give sufficient reasons for this. The rock type granite, which occurs mainly in Bavaria, does not make sense for storage over a million years.

Warnings against political interference

Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) said she hoped that there would be a strong public interest in putting the report through its paces in the coming months and getting involved intensively. The central point for them is that political motives should not influence the search for a final repository in any way: the procedure must be strictly scientific.

“This is the only way in the end there can be acceptance for a repository site - regardless of where it will then be in the republic.” She expects politicians to “now accept joint responsibility and support the process,” said Schulze. "The process is good, it deserves trust."

The FDP said they would look carefully to rule out politically motivated decisions in this purely science-based phase. There should be no premature exclusion of locations, such as in the coalition agreement of the Bavarian state government.

The search area for a nuclear waste repository is to be narrowed down more and more in the coming years, regulated by the Site Selection Act (StandAG). In three phases, the areas that come into question as possible locations for a repository are examined in more detail. A surface and underground exploration of the possible areas will also be carried out in the course of the further procedure.

The BGE assures us that a preliminary decision is a long way off. Aspects such as settlement density, nature or water protection areas have not yet been taken into account in the previous procedure. However, these criteria only come into play if the geological conditions at another comparable location are just as good.

A repository is to be found in Germany by 2031, which in the end also has to be suitable “to survive several ice ages unscathed”, as Kanitz says. This is one of the reasons why long-term above-ground interim storage of the highly radioactive waste is not an alternative to a repository in deep rock layers.

Public participation central

The report that has now been presented is only the first step in the first phase and the basis for public participation, which will begin in October with a kick-off event in Kassel. The arguments will be listened to carefully and later explained why some are being adopted and others are not. “Anyone who asks us will also get an answer. That is our claim, ”said Kanitz.

This substantive discussion should be finished by June 2021. This period seems too short to critics. Antje von Brook, Head of Politics and Communication at the Federation for Environment and Nature Conservation Germany (BUND), explained that public participation in the search for nuclear waste "takes time and requires eye level". However, both are in short supply.

More: The most important questions and answers about the search process.