Prof. Fischer-Appelt takes over the head of the chair of Repository Safety

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Prof. Fischer-Appelt takes over the head of the chair of Repository Safety


The interview with Prof. Fischer-Appelt was conducted by Sabine Backus, a representative of the Division of Mineral Resources and Raw Materials Engineering.

S. B.: Welcome to the Division of Mineral Resources and Raw Materials Engineering, Prof. Klaus Fischer-Appelt!

F.-A.: Well Sabine, actually we can stay with the "you" here too!

S. B.: With pleasure! We are very pleased to welcome you to Aachen, even if your start is certainly somewhat different than expected due to the corona circumstances.

On 1 November, you took over the Institute for Nuclear Waste Disposal and Technology Transfer (NET), which had been temporarily headed by Prof. Preuße for several years after Prof. Thomauske's retirement. Would you briefly introduce yourself to our students and staff?

F.-A.: Of course, with pleasure. My name is Klaus Fischer-Appelt, I am 56 years old, married and have 3 children. I was born in Aachen and studied geology at the RWTH from 1986 to 1993. In my diploma thesis I dealt with hydrochemical and hydrogeological investigations for the assessment and containment of contamination in groundwater by volatile chlorinated hydrocarbons in Düsseldorf-Nord.

In 1994, after my studies, I joined the Gesellschaft für Anlagen- und Reaktorsicherheit (GRS) in Cologne. GRS is a research company (gGmbH) that deals with all questions of nuclear safety for supervisory and licensing authorities of the Federal Government and the German countries. In the first few years, I worked there in a doctoral position. The content of my doctorate was the application of methods and calculation instruments for the long-term safety assessment for repositories, in a reduced form for the long-term safety assessment for mines with residual material backfill within the framework of a larger BMBF joint project. By the way, the doctorate was also at RWTH.

Afterwards, I was taken on by GRS in a permanent position and worked there for 26 years. My main areas of work were, among others

  • Advising the Federal Ministry for the Environment in the licensing procedure for the decommissioning of the Morsleben repository
  • Implementation of analytical approaches for the description of sorption processes of radionuclides on different geomaterials in computational programmes for the simulation of the transport of dissolved radionuclides in the subsurface
  • Development of a methodology for the safety-oriented comparison of repository systems in different host rocks (rock salt, claystone, crystalline)
  • Comparison of safety requirements for repositories in different countries

In 2009, I took over the management of the Repository Department at GRS.

From 2010 to 2013, I was project manager of the large-scale research project "Preliminary Safety Analysis for the Gorleben Site". This involved a comprehensive repository safety analysis according to the state of the art in science and technology, taking into account the "Safety Requirements for the Final Disposal of Heat-Generating Waste" of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, which came into force at that time. In addition to 7 other institutions, several institutes of RWTH Aachen University also participated very successfully in this project. For me, this was a stroke of luck because it gave me contact with the university again. I had lost this contact shortly after I started working at GRS, mainly because my former professors retired almost at the same time.

S. B.: What do you expect from the change to RWTH Aachen? What are your plans?

F.-A.: Well, as someone who has been working in the field of final disposal of radioactive waste for many years, I am convinced that the current society has the responsibility to tackle the challenges associated with the nuclear legacy of the use of nuclear energy now and not to leave them to future generations more than unavoidable.

In the current procedure to find a final repository site for high-level radioactive waste, I can see that the responsible institutions have a huge need for support from research and for highly qualified young scientists. In this respect, I thought that after 26 years of working for final disposal and the professional experience that goes with it, I could also become useful in teaching and „spray“ a little of my knowledge I have accumulated so far in the remaining years of my career. By the way, this was my main motivation to apply for the advertised W3 professorship.

I set out to make a decisive contribution to ensuring that, on the one hand, the name RWTH Aachen University stands in the field of repository research as an undisputedly excellent quality brand for highly qualified and responsible young scientists, and that the university will get a leading role in the field of repository research. In other words: I am keen to work towards that RWTH Aachen Univeristy becoming an institution that could no longer be bypassed in terms of teaching and research in the radwaste disposal scene.

S. B.: We have heard that you are going to rename NET. Can you tell us the new name and tell us something about the reasons for the renaming?

F.-A.: Sure, it's no secret, the new name is "Chair for Repository Safety". The name is meant to embody the teaching content that is the focus of the planned degree programme. That is, the final disposal of radioactive waste and all the scientific and technical aspects associated with it. At NET there is also teaching and research content that focuses on the topic of radioactive waste disposal, but these are only sub-areas of what I understand to be the comprehensive topic of final disposal.

S. B.: The swiftly final disposal of radioactive waste is one of the most important tasks facing society today and a major challenge. However, the next generation of scientists in this field is relatively thin on the ground. This is a question that is certainly of particular interest to our students: A new Master's programme is planned. What is the state of affairs there?

F.-A.: My colleague Frank Charlier and I are currently busy realigning the teaching content of NET and launching the new Master's study programme. Unfortunately, it takes time to establish such a lecture programme: our hopes of starting in the winter semester of 2021 have been dashed and it will probably not be possible until 2022. However, there is already a great opportunity to listen to the wise words of Charlier & Fischer-Appelt® in the Bachelor's study programme "Sustainable Raw Materials and Energy Supply" as part of the elective course "Repository Concepts"! (laughs).

Generally speaking, dealing with the issue of radwaste disposal has a future. Let's assume that we actually succeed in finding a site for a repository for highly radioactive waste until 2031, as required by the Site Selection Act, this site would still have to undergo a licensing procedure lasting several years. Together with the necessary construction of the repository infrastructure, we could start emplacing waste containers in 2045 at the earliest, a procedure that (without significant operational disruptions) would easily take 40-60 years. The subsequent closure of the repository will also take another 10-20 years. So even with optimistic time estimates, we will definitely enter the next century with the matter: work for generations of scientists.

In designing the new Master's programme, it is important to us to make the teaching of the subject matter clear and accessible. We are planning to make our lectures modern and flexible through the targeted use of media, also in the sense of blended learning. I am curious to see what is possible. Nevertheless, I hope that we will soon have brought Mr. SARS-CoV-2 decisively to his knees and that face-to-face lectures can take place again. I feel a little bit unlucky with the rather impersonal zoom meetings, especially because I get very little feedback from the students for technical reasons. But that would be exactly that what I need at the moment as a new professor.

But that's really the only drawback. All in all, I feel incredibly comfortable here at RWTH Aachen University, I have a lot of fun at work, where the great scope for creativity makes many a creative vein swell up in me, and I enjoy the very nice contact with my colleagues, who have welcomed me very warmly here and whom I look forward to seeing again every morning, if it's not just the weekend.

S. B.: Thank you very much for the informative interview and have a good start in Aachen!