Final disposal and nuclear energy - junior staff urgently needed

08/03/2021
  Endlagersicherheit-konrad Copyright: ELS

End of nuclear power in Germany

By the end of 2022, Germany will have phased out nuclear power generation. What remains is the challenge of responsibly disposing of the radioactive waste from the operation and dismantling of nuclear power plants. In Germany, the solution for this is to be final repositories in deep geological formations.

Expansion of nuclear power worldwide

There are currently 444 nuclear power plants in operation in 32 countries around the world. An additional 118 units are planned and 52 nuclear power plants are under construction. These facts prove the continuous increase of electricity production from nuclear energy worldwide. Further facts can be found at www.nuclearplanet.ch.

Nuclear power also continues to be used in the immediate vicinity of Germany. The population in the border regions views the operation of our neighbors' nuclear power plants with concern in some cases.

Final disposal - a challenge for the century

Germany has embarked on a fundamentally new path for the final storage of highly radioactive waste following the Fukushima disaster. A safe site for a final repository is to be found and approved in a process lasting many years.

To this end, suitable regions in the rock formations salt, clay or crystalline are being investigated throughout Germany. This is initially done on the basis of existing geological information. All regions are evaluated according to defined criteria. These are minimum site requirements, exclusion criteria and consideration criteria. The staged site selection process first identifies sub-regions, then site regions and, in the final step, specific sites for surface and underground exploration.

In addition to the search for a suitable site for a repository for high-level radioactive waste, there are three other "repository projects" in Germany - all for low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste. The Morsleben repository is currently being prepared for decommissioning. The Asse II mine near Remlingen has been used to store waste that is to be retrieved in the future in accordance with legal requirements. The Konrad repository near Salzgitter has been approved for the future storage of low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste.

The responsible tasks of final disposal will continue for many decades. For the final disposal of high-level radioactive waste, the process will take at least 60-80 years.

More information on final disposal can be found at the Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management (BASE) at www.base.bund.de and at the Bundesgesellschaft für Endlagerung mbH (BGE), www.bge.de.

Why junior staff?

Regardless of one's attitude toward nuclear energy or final disposal - whether a proponent or a strict opponent - there will continue to be a number of questions and problems in Germany in the future that our society will have to deal with and for which nuclear expertise is urgently needed.

Specialists are needed for the operation, maintenance, decommissioning and dismantling of nuclear facilities as well as for final storage, reactor safety research, radiation protection and the handling of radioactive waste. It is also important to maintain competence in order to be able to evaluate foreign nuclear facilities and projects.

In order to meet this responsibility, we need well-trained junior staff in the long term who are able to analyze the complex interrelationships in this multi-layered subject area and develop suitable future-oriented solutions, taking safety aspects into account.

The occupational field is not only important and attractive because it offers graduates a variety of interdisciplinary fields of activity. Despite all political discussions, it also offers a secure professional future perspective on the national and international job market in view of the current and future demand for specialists.

The Chair of Repository Safety at RWTH Aachen University (www.els.rwth-aachen.de) is therefore planning to introduce a new Master's program starting in the winter semester of 2022, which will help to train the urgently needed next generation of scientists in Germany.

This article was created for the Energy & Climate Protection Foundation.