Research on secure interim storage

The dry interim storage of high-level radioactive waste in Germany is currently limited in time to a maximum of 40 years. Evidence has been produced that waste can be stored safely during this period and this evidence was subject to confirmation by independent experts during the licensing procedure. Given the time limit which applies, the first storage license for the Gorleben interim storage facility operated by BGZ will expire in 2034.

As the repository for high-level radioactive waste, in accordance with the Site Selection Act, is not planned to go into operation before the middle of this century, BGZ is already preparing for the eventuality that waste will have to be held in interim storage for a longer period of time. Waste can only be stored for a longer period of time if it can be shown in public licensing procedures that it can be kept in interim storage for longer than 40 years in accordance with the state-of-the-art in science and technology applying at the time.

The scientific evidence needed to assess safety is obtained by BGZ by various means, including participating in national and international research, by exchanging information with external experts and within specific international cooperation projects. BGZ is participating in the following research programmes on the safe interim storage of radioactive waste.

FH Aachen University of Applied Sciences and BGZ are also together making the case for the retention of expertise in nuclear waste management by cooperating on a master of science degree course in Nuclear Applications. The in-depth course on Nuclear Waste Management enables postgraduate students to specialise in this field.

Research undertaken by the Nuclear Energy Agency

BGZ is involved in various research activities with the Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD-NEA). The scientific programme is being developed and implemented in working parties and expert groups under the auspices of the Nuclear Science Committee (NSC), which is made up of internationally recognised scientific experts from OECD member states. There is close exchange with the NEA Data Bank. The NEA Data Bank is the international reference centre for computer codes, nuclear and thermochemical databases. BGZ is specifically involved in the Working Party on Nuclear Criticality Safety (WPNCS) and work on the SFCOMPO 2.0 database (Spent Fuel Isotopic Composition). The OECD-NEA also coordinates the Studsvik Cladding Integrity Project, which is described below.

Further information about OECD-NEA is available here.

Studsvik Cladding Integrity Project

© Studsvik

The Studsvik Cladding Integrity Project (SCIP) is a joint project that is operated by Studsvik Nuklear AB in Sweden and supported by the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

In several tasks of the current SCIP IV research programme both theoretical and experimental studies are being performed on the behaviour of the fuel and fuel rod cladding during interim storage. The investigations are focusing on aspects such as hydrogen behaviour in fuel rod cladding under long-term dry storage conditions or the interaction of fuel and cladding. BGZ is involved in planning and evaluating the experiments.

Muon tomography of loaded casks

The MuTomCa (Muon Tomography for Shielded Casks) research project being undertaken jointly by BGZ with the Italian Instituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN), the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) and the Forschungszentrum Jülich aims to use muon tomography as a method for analysing the inventory of shielded waste casks in the framework of safeguards.

As muons – which originate from cosmic rays – are able to penetrate the thick walls of shielded waste casks, this method can be used to “screen” the contents of casks to draw conclusions about the inventory without actually opening the casks. The suitability of this method of verifying the cask inventory will be subject to a field test performed in a BGZ fuel element interim storage facility.

INFN system for muon tomography realized by the INFN Padova group; © Courtesy of INFN Padova group

Extended Storage Collaboration Program

The Extended Storage Collaboration Program (ESCP) consists of a group of international institutions and organisations coordinated by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).

Several working parties are discussing current issues relating to the dry cask storage of spent fuel and the associated international research and plans and carries out concrete research projects. As an example, the insides of a cask filled with spent fuel were fitted with additional measuring instruments and studied in detail. BGZ is directly involved in all the committees and research activities relevant for Germany. At present, this includes the computational benchmark for the reliable theoretical determination of the temperature field of previously loaded and dimensioned casks.

SpizWurZ

The joint research project SpizWurZ (Voltage-induced hydrogen rearrangement in fuel rod cladding during long-term interim storage), which is funded by the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), will investigate hydrogen behaviour in fuel rod cladding both experimentally and theoretically under long-term interim storage conditions.

The project, which is coordinated by the German Association for Plant and Reactor Safety (GRS) is being undertaken jointly with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). The research work encompasses experimental studies of spent fuel, long-term studies of non-irradiated cladding material to which hydrogen has been added and detailed studies of individual cladding material samples. This work is supported throughout using simulations and theoretical modelling. BGZ is involved in the work as an observer.

In-depth course on Nuclear Waste Management for Masters students: Retention of nuclear disposal expertise

Campus Jülich der FH Aachen

Jülich site of the FH Aachen University of Applied Sciences;
© FH Aachen/Thilo Vogel

“Even after the last German nuclear power station has been closed down, it will still be necessary to maintain expertise in nuclear safety topics and to continue training experts to work in this field.” This statement in the Position paper of the Federal Ministry for the Environment on the completion of the nuclear phase-out animates the work being undertaken at the FH Aachen University of Applied Sciences and BGZ since the summer semester of 2021.

Postgraduate students from a technical or natural science background have the opportunity to specialise in the safe operation of interim storage facilities and repositories for radioactive waste at the Jülich site of the FH Aachen University of Applied Sciences. The in-depth course of studies in Nuclear Waste Management is offered in the framework of the Master of Science in Nuclear Applications. The course has already won several accolades as one of the best courses of study in the world in this field.

Experienced BGZ experts from Germany and across the world pass on their know-how to students in lectures and seminars. Graduates with a Masters in this specialism are equipped to assess the technology and processes in the interim and final disposal of radioactive waste. They analyse and conceptualise processes, such as ageing management. Postgraduate students taking the specialist degree course learn about the international and national legal norms which in part govern the leading licensing procedures. Students are also taught the metaskills which they will require later in life for management tasks.

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