Safe disposal of Switzerland’s radioactive waste
Disposal – of what?
Radioactive waste mainly arises from the generation of electricity in nuclear power plants. Other types of radioactive waste are produced from applications in medicine, industry and research.
Where does the radioactive waste come from?
Radioactivity is widely used today. The best-known example is the generation of electricity in the nuclear power plants. These generate 33 per cent of all of Switzerland’s electricity (source: Swiss Federal Office of Energy, status end of 2020). Nuclear power plants produce high-level waste in the form of spent fuel assemblies and low- and intermediate-level waste from operation and decommissioning (dismantling). More radioactive waste is produced from applications in medicine, industry and research. This consists almost exclusively of low- and intermediate-level-waste.
Learn more about the waste producers and waste applications here.
Types of radioactive waste
For the purpose of simplification, radioactive waste is divided into two waste types:
- high-level waste such as spent fuel assemblies from nuclear power plants
- low- and intermediate-level waste, for example from the operation or dismantling of a nuclear power plant (filters, protective equipment).
Both waste types have different physical properties and have to be disposed of in separate facilities, either in two individual repositories at different sites or in a combined repository for both waste types located at a joint site. A combined repository has two separate underground disposal zones for the two waste types. Until a repository becomes operational, the waste is held in an interim storage facility.
How much radioactive waste will be produced?
The expected volume of Switzerland’s radioactive waste can be predicted based on Nagra’s inventories. The total volume of high-level waste will amount to around 9300 cubic metres, which corresponds roughly to the volume of eight single-family homes.
The polluter pays principle embodied in the Swiss Nuclear Energy Act applies to the management of radioactive waste: whoever produces radioactive waste has to safely dispose of it at their own cost.
“Why will Switzerland dispose of its radioactive waste in a deep geological repository?”
Learn more about the legal framework.
What is radioactivity anyway?
Radioactivity is a natural phenomenon and is present everywhere – in our air, water, soil and in rock. Our senses are not able to detect it by sight, smell or sound.
Radioactivity can also be artificially generated through human use in nuclear power plants or medical purposes, producing radioactive waste that has to be disposed of safely. The radioactivity continuously decreases with time due to radioactive decay.
Learn more about how radioactive waste can be shielded in a deep geological repository here.
Cover photo: Boris Baldinger