Permanent disposal of radioactive waste in a deep geological repository

After many years of research by our experts, we have now identified the best rock and possess a robust disposal concept.

Radioactive waste disposal – but how?

Switzerland will safely dispose of its radioactive waste in a deep geological repository that provides long-term protection for humans and the environment. Future generations will not have to concern themselves with the waste.

Switzerland has radioactive waste from nuclear power plants and from applications in medicine, industry and research. This waste has to be safely disposed of in a deep geological repository for a very long time period. Until the repository has been constructed, the waste is packaged and held in interim storage facilities and at the nuclear power plants. The search for a repository site is making progress.

Why choose a deep geological repository?

Switzerland’s radioactive waste must be safely isolated from humans and the environment for a very long period of time, i.e. for tens to hundreds of thousands of years, until the toxicity of the waste has decayed to a harmless level. High-level waste in particular cannot be kept in surface repositories because it is impossible to foresee how society and the earth’s surface will evolve.

In a deep geological repository, the waste is emplaced in tight and stable rock formations at a depth of several hundreds of metres, thus ensuring long-term safety without the need for human intervention. A multi-barrier system protects the waste from external impacts and retains radioactive substances in the repository.

Diagram of an emplacement drift with a disposal canister for spent fuel assemblies. Safety barriers such as the bentonite tunnel backfill and the surrounding Opalinus Clay rock reliably enclose the canister.

An internationally recognised solution

Experts in Switzerland and abroad came to the conclusion that deep geological disposal is the best waste management solution for Switzerland based on technical-scientific, societal and ethical aspects. As part of a broadly-based, democratic process, the deep geological disposal of all of the nation’s radioactive waste was stipulated in Switzerland’s Nuclear Energy Act.

From an engineering perspective, a deep geological repository is a project of the century. For society, it is a cross-generational project: by implementing it, today’s generations are assuming responsibility towards future generations. Here at Nagra, we are proud to contribute to this task.

Safe repository feasible in Switzerland

Nagra has the mandate to plan and realise a safe deep geological repository. In a feasibility demonstration approved by the Federal Council, Nagra has shown that this is technically feasible. It is necessary to ensure that the repository will be monitored until its final closure. The waste also has to remain retrievable without undue effort until the closure of the repository. Switzerland and other countries have opted for deep geological disposal.

Here you can learn how a deep geological repository works and what this involves.

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Multiple barriers ensure that a deep geological repository reliably protects humans and the environment.

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We collaborate with national and international partners on radioactive waste disposal.

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You can take a look at what we do in the two underground rock laboratories, Grimsel Test Site and Mont Terri.

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Cover photo: Boris Baldinger