(Note: the following information was provided by the Country Coordinator for Switzerland)
Policy & Strategy
According to Swiss law, radioactive waste generated in Switzerland has to be disposed off domestically, although exceptions may be granted by the Government. All radioactive waste has to undergo geological disposal. The generators of radioactive waste, i.e. the operators of the nuclear power plants and the Federal State for the radioactive waste from medicine, industry and research, are responsible for the management including disposal. No disposal facility is yet in operation, thus all radioactive waste is kept in storage facilities. Each nuclear power plant has sufficient storage capacity for its own wastes. Radioactive waste from medicine, industry and research is stored at the Federal Storage Facility operated by the research institute PSI.
The utility-owned organization ZWILAG is responsible for storing spent fuel, HLW and other wastes, for conditioning specific L/ILW waste streams and for incinerating LLW wastes.
Construction of a radioactive waste management facility has been finalized and the operational license was issued in March 2000. Operation of the storage part started in 2001. By the end of 2003, 8 transport and storage castes with spent fuel and 4 casks with vitrified high level waste are stored. The conditioning and incineration installations are in various stages of commissioning. The realization of this interim storage facility relieves the time-pressure for establishing final disposal routes.
In 1994, the application for the federal general license for a L/ILW repository at the Wellenberg site was submitted and a request for a mining concession for the repository was made to the Canton of Nidwald, where the proposed repository should be sited. A public referendum in June 1995 refused to grant the mining concession by a narrow margin (52 to 48 %). Within the framework of the general license application, the safety authority's review came to positive conclusions. However, because the project was blocked on the political level, the general license procedure has been suspended since 1997.
On request by the federal energy minister, a working group discussed technical and socio-economical aspects of the Wellenberg project. In September 1998 the work of the technical group came to an end with positive results. From mid 1999 until early 2000 a new governmental working group EKRA (Expertengruppe Entsorgungskonzepte Radioaktive Abfälle) evaluated different waste management concepts and reviewed the Wellenberg project. Their report issued in February 2000 recommends continuing with the site investigation process.
In order to take into account public concerns (mainly monitoring/retrievability and public involvement in decision-making), the strategy for repository implementation has been adapted by the implementers. They adopted a step-wise approach. In a first step, the concession will be restricted to an exploratory drift. The repository project has been modified to include a phase of long term monitoring and easier retrievability.
In March 2000, the federal government and the government of the Canton of Nidwald agreed to continue site investigations and defined the steps to be taken. A new application for a mining concession only for the exploratory drift was submitted in January 2001. The granting of this concession was rejected at a referendum in September 2002 by 57.5 % of the citizens. As a consequence of this rejection, the site of Wellenberg had to be abandoned. A new site selection has now to be carried out.
Within the HLW/ILW repository program, two host rock options are considered: Crystalline Bedrock (for which a comprehensive evaluation has been performed in 1994) and Opalinus Clay. The next milestone of the HLW program is to demonstrate that safe disposal is feasible in Switzerland. A corresponding project has been submitted to the federal Government in December 2002. It is based on a model repository in Opalinus Clay in Zurich Weinland region. The geological database is provided by the results of the deep exploratory drilling at Benken, a 3D-seismik survey over an area of about 50 km2 around Benken and the experiments at the Mont Terri rock laboratory. The project is currently reviewed by the competent authorities; this should be completed by the end of 2004. The decision of the Federal Government is expected in 2006; it will fix the next steps of the HLW program.