Surface facilities for a deep geological repository do not endanger the groundwater

In a memorandum, an environmental lawyer states that a surface facility located above groundwater is “not advisable”. Nagra does not share this assessment.

Do the surface facilities required for a deep geological repository endanger the groundwater? This question is currently the subject of intensive discussion. Everyone involved, from the authorities through Nagra and the Cantons to the population at large, agrees on the most relevant point: the groundwater and particularly drinking-water may not be endangered.

In line with the responsible federal authorities, Nagra is convinced that it is possible to safely construct and operate a surface facility above groundwater. The strictly managed groundwater protection zones (where drinking-water production facilities are located) and groundwater protection areas (protection zones for future use) are rigorously avoided. However, a surface facility can be constructed in the so-called water protection area Au, where engineering measures will be taken to protect the groundwater. Just like the planned surface facilities, all Swiss nuclear power plants, the interim storage facility in Würenlingen and many chemical facilities have been built above groundwater where they have been operating safely for decades.

On behalf of four Cantons, Professor Heribert Rausch has composed a legal memorandum in which he states that no comparable facility exists to date and that it is therefore not possible to properly assess the hazard posed by a surface facility. The author adds that it is not “advisable” to construct a surface facility in the water protection area Au.

Nagra employed the lawyer Lorenz Lehmann, an expert in environmental law of the company Econsens, to analyse the situation. Lehmann disagrees with Rausch’s memorandum in key points.

As opposed to a deep geological repository, surface facilities are not a novelty, Lehmann points out in his statement. At the interim storage facility in Würenlingen, for example, radioactive waste has been repackaged and treated at the surface for decades. Moreover, compared to other nuclear installations, a surface facility poses only a very low hazard. Lehmann concludes that the Rausch memorandum is inadequate for calling into question the previous assessment of the authorities.

Nagra welcomes the opportunity to clarify the issues surrounding groundwater protection at a round table together with the federal and cantonal authorities.

Full statement by Lorenz Lehmann: Link

Why might a surface facility be built above groundwater?

In a densely populated country such as Switzerland, conflicting interests always arise when a facility as large as the surface facility for a repository is to be constructed. In Stage 2, Nagra also proposed locations for surface facilities outside the water protection areas Au. However, the regional conferences rejected these proposals based on other criteria and as a consequence, the Federal Council has not adopted areas outside the groundwater protection areas into the Sectoral Plan (results report on Stage 2)