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An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Integrated Review Service for Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management, Decommissioning and Remediation (ARTEMIS) review team completed a two-week mission to Germany on 4 October. 

The team said Germany is continuing to manage its radioactive waste and used fuel in a safe and responsible manner, but noted opportunities for improving monitoring and for achieving transparency in some reporting and regulatory processes. The team included eight experts from Finland, France, Italy, Luxemburg, Sweden, the UK and the USA and four IAEA staff members.

The ARTEMIS mission was requested by the German Government, and the main counterpart organisation the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety. 

Germany, which is to phase out nuclear power by 2022, has more than 30 reactors and other nuclear facilities, whose decommissioning will create a significant amount of radioactive waste. Germany is also planning to retrieve radioactive waste from the Asse II former salt mine. The waste will need to be stored until it can be safely disposed of. 

However, Germany does not have an operating radioactive waste disposal facility as the Morsleben disposal facility has stopped receiving waste and is being closed. A new disposal facility for low- and intermediate-level waste is being built at the site of a former iron ore mine at Konrad and investigations are underway to find a site for a disposal facility that could receive various types of radioactive waste, including high-level waste (HLW). 

The ARTEMIS team said Germany has a mature legal and regulatory framework for the safety of used fuel and radioactive waste management and noted the involvement in the site selection process of an independent mediating body comprised of prominent people and other citizens as a good practice. 

“Germany has an important programme of radioactive waste management and decommissioning. Many lessons have been learnt that will help the international community,” commented ARTEMIS team leader Patrick Majerus, head of Luxembourg’s Department of Radiation Protection at the Ministry of Health.

However, the team noted that the planned completion by 2031 of the site selection process for the disposal facility that could receive HLW represents a "significant challenge". Germany plans to site, license, construct and start operating this facility by around 2050. The retrieval of radioactive waste from the Asse II mine is another significant challenge, the team said. 

Recommendations for improvement included:

The Government should establish an improved process for monitoring progress in implementing the National Programme.The Federal Company for Radioactive Waste Disposal (BGE), in consultation with the Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management (BfE), should consider making public the approach to applying site selection criteria in the search for a site for a disposal facility that could receive HLW. The BMU should update the cost assessment for the entire National Programme and include the costs for waste retrieval from the Asse II mine.

“This mission provides feedback that should help further improve the development and implementation of country’s radioactive waste-management programme”, noted Peter Johnston, Director of the IAEA ‘s Division of Radiation, Transport and Waste Safety. The final mission report will be provided to the Government in approximately two months.

Date: Tuesday, 15 October 2019
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