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Germany seeks talks with Switzerland on nuclear waste site

September 12, 2022

Berlin says it wants to know more about Switzerland's plans for a nuclear waste site close to the German border. The German government had already expressed some concern about the proposal.

The Nördlich Lägern site
Drilling to find out more about the areas geology has already taken place at the Nördlich Lägern siteImage: Ennio Leanza/Keystone/picture alliance

The German government on Monday said it would not be sending nuclear waste to a planned Swiss repository close to the border with Germany, and that it was seeking talks on the issue.

Berlin, which had already criticized Switzerland's proposal to build a nuclear waste repository so close to the border, said Germany was examining the plans in detail.

What has Germany said about the issue?

The German Environment Ministry has warned that the site of the nuclear repository would "heavily burden communities on the German side."

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Germany would have to discuss the decision "through the usual channels with all those responsible in the Swiss government."

Swiss authorities made the announcement on Saturday that they had selected the site, which lies in the north of the country. 

Compensation for affected regions has yet to be decided, but Swiss authorities have signaled they are open to making payments.

Nuclear energy has long been a highly sensitive issue in Germany, with the country set to take all of its nuclear power plants offline at the end of this year.

A spokesperson for the ministry said Germany was "very carefully" examining the Swiss decision to build the nuclear waste repository so close to the frontier.

A nuclear power comeback in Germany?

The Swiss storage site at Nördlich Lägern, some 20 kilometers (about 12.5 miles) north of Zurich, would have surface structures within 2 kilometers of the German border, according to a statement from the German Environment Ministry.

However, it is understood that the underground storage site would not cross over into German territory. The ministry said Germany would not use the Swiss site itself.

"Germany has decided to construct its own final repository for its nuclear waste and not to share this with European partners. We are responsible for our own waste," a spokesperson said.

Nearby German communities have reacted skeptically to the siting of the waste site at Nördlich Lägern, which was initially put on hold as a second choice in 2015.

Those communities near the border are primarily worried about the issue of safe drinking water supply.

Why was the site chosen?

After a 14-year evaluation process, Swiss nuclear waste authority Nagra said the type of clay found in the area provided the greatest geological barrier, the best rock stability and a high degree of flexibility compared with the two other sites that were shortlisted.

"Geology has spoken," Nagra Chief Executive Matthias Braun told a news conference on Monday.

"The core of the deep store is this grey and inconspicuous stone ... here time practically stands still," he said. 

Radioactive waste coming from nuclear power plants, industry, and research could be buried there — hundreds of meters underground.

Switzerland, which also plans an eventual nuclear phaseout, still has four operational nuclear power plants which could continue to run into the 2040s.

Waste is currently stored at an interim facility some 15 kilometers south of the German border municipality of Waldshut-Tiengen.

Swiss authorities must still give their final decision on the permit for construction to go ahead and the building of the facility would not begin until 2031 at the earliest, and would only become operational in 2050.

The Swiss government would have to approve the plan, with parliament also giving its consent. The issue could also potentially be put to a national referendum under Swiss direct democracy.

rc/wd (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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