Article Details

Article Title

Future German R&D on HLW Disposal


Walter Steininger*, Holger Wirth**
*Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Project Management Agency Karlsruhe (PTKA-WTE)
** Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi)


In 2009, after the General elections, the new German Government showed a relatively positive attitude towards a prolonged use of nuclear power. Power plant shut-down was planned for the year 2032. Nuclear power was considered as a sort of transition energy technology until the energy supply would take place by the use of renewable energy sources. This was in line with the legal framework and the political strategy of the energy turnaround. Then, 17 nuclear power plants (NPP) were operational.

The Fukushima incident heralded the sound of drastic changes in the German energy policy: Besides an intermediate stop of operation of reactors until a so-called stress test was accomplished, the general political decision was to phase-out nuclear earlier than planned and to implement faster the decisions regarding the energy transition policy. The shut-down of the last German nuclear power plant will occur in 2022. Accordingly, all the necessary legal changes were made.

A consensus about the appropriate waste management strategy for heat generating waste (spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and vitrified waste (HLW)) was still pending at this time. Public and political discussions on this subject continued as in the years before.

In July 2013, after intensive discussions, most of the parties represented in the German parliament agreed to eventually tackle the challenge of finding a repository by a consensual, transparent and science-based approach. This was to be codified in a law. In July 2013, the Site Selection Act passed the parliament. This law should pave the way for a new holistic process that addresses social, political, and scientific aspects of siting and the site selection process. The basics for this process should be provided by the “Commission Storage of Radioactive Waste Materials” which was established according this law.

Against this background discussions showed that scientific-technical R&D activities should be mirrored accordingly and R&D has to deal both with the future challenges of radioactive waste HLW disposal and related aspects.

Considering this the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), which is responsible for non-site specific R&D, created the new Research Concept “Research for the management of radioactive waste”, being fundamental and the frame for non-site specific R&D projects funded by BMWi. Key changes – mirroring the new requirements and different aspects – touch the issues: host rock research, i.e. all potential host rocks available in Germany are equally addressed and there is no prioritization, consideration of consequences of prolonged storage at NPP sites, alternative waste management strategies compared to direct disposal in a mined repository, and involvement of socio-technical aspects.

This paper intends to highlight the key changes, its consequences, and will give a brief overview on first initiated R&D activities.


WM Symposia


WMS Journal Volume 2, Issue 2

Publication Date

January 2017

Document Type

Conference Paper