Lino Guzzella, Matthias Braun, in September 2022, Nagra proposed Nördlich Lägern as the site for a deep geological repository. How would you assess the reactions in the region and in the media?
Guzzella: Reactions were mostly constructive and objective. Once again, Switzerland’s citizens demonstrated their ability to hold rational discussions with one another on complex and challenging issues.
Braun: I read in the media that Switzerland had shown maturity with its level-headed reaction – this pleased me greatly. I was impressed by the matter-of-fact reaction of the people in the affected region. Not that they rejoiced. But I sense that the region wants to make the best of the situation and become involved. Guzzella: Collaboration with the region has borne fruit – the Nördlich Lägern regional conference and its expert groups have been dealing with the topic for years and have built up an extensive knowledge base.
Braun: Yes, this collaboration has led to better solutions. For example, we decided on the location of the surface facility together with the region. The region has long been involved in the project and helps to improve it.
Guzzella: From my point of view, the important thing is to keep safety at the core of the site selection process. Not only is this a legal requirement, it is also deeply embedded in Nagra’s culture. And this fact has been acknowledged in the Nördlich Lägern siting region and beyond.
Where and how have you engaged in dialogue with people in the region since the proposal was announced, and how did you experience these discussions?
Braun: After the siting proposal, we set up an information pavilion in Windlach that was open for seven months. Personally, I had some very interesting conversations with residents there. I was impressed by the fact that many of those affected gave us concrete suggestions and asked important questions. In addition, we explained our proposal at regional conferences, at information events in the region and in social media.
How clearly did the decision point in favour of Nördlich Lägern?
Braun: The decision was unequivocal. I am glad that the geological setting allowed such a clear decision. The differences between the sites are clearly recognisable to experts and also understandable to non-geologists.
Guzzella: At the same time, Nagra was spoilt for choice: all three remaining siting regions were confirmed to be suitable for a deep geological repository and any resulting radiation would fall below the legally prescribed dose limit. However, Nördlich Lägern simply has the greatest safety reserves. We owe this conclusion to the many years of dedication shown by Nagra’s employees who have worked towards this milestone. On behalf of the
Board of Directors, I would once again like to express our gratitude to all current and former employees for their excellent work.
“ From my point of view, the important thing is to keep safety at the core of the site selection process. Not only is this a legal requirement, it is also deeply embedded in Nagra’s culture.”
Lino Guzzella, President
However, the fact that in 2015 Nagra wanted to shelve precisely this siting region caused some irritation.
Braun: Yes, I can understand that our proposal surprised som people, but we have learned a lot since 2015. At the time, we could not rule out the possibility that construction technology was not up to the task. We have been able to alleviate these concerns because we now possess much more data today than we did back then. From today’s perspective, we were too cautious at the time – a nd we are now thankful that the authorities insisted
on us investigating not only Jura Ost and Zürich Nordost in depth, but also Nördlich Lägern.
Guzzella: For me, this decision is proof that the Sectoral Plan process works and that dialogue between the regions, the authorities and Nagra has brought about the best solution.
The German Expert Group on Swiss Repositories (EScht) has praised Nagra for its siting proposal, and the cantons have also expressed positive opinions. Did you expect that?
Braun: We always kept the cantonal experts informed about our work, especially the deep borehole campaign, showed them our data and discussed our results with them. Our proposal came as no surprise to the cantons, as they were able to draw their own conclusions from our data and apparently came to the same verdict as we did at Nagra. The opinion of the German Expert Group confirmed that we are on the right track.
Guzzella: It is important to me to work closely with everyone affected, and this includes the neighbouring communities across the border in Germany. We are therefore glad that the German experts consider our reasoning to be correct.
“ Our proposal came as no surprise to the cantons. They were able to draw their own conclusions and came to the same verdict as we did.”
Matthias Braun, CEO
Other voices, however, criticised the fact that the proposal was communicated before all scientific reports were available.
Guzzella: We did not want to present those affected with a fait accompli. Nagra was therefore right to communicate the proposal in autumn 2022, rather than preparing the general licence applications behind closed doors. This timely communication reflected our wish for transparency, and we can now address the concerns of the region actually affected when preparing the general licence application for the repository.
Now that the siting proposal has been announced: what has changed for Nagra and what has remained the same?
Braun: What has changed is that we no longer always have to talk in the subjunctive. Honestly: for me, this is a relief. The project has become more concrete, and we are already working with the region to find solutions to various challenges. I notice a marked difference in the mood and level of interest of the region. The local authorities have become very active and have taken the reins. Last autumn, for example, the communities of Stadel,
Weiach and Glattfelden organised an event with the former mayor of Sedrun. Until a few years ago, Sedrun had a large construction site for the New Railway Link through the Alps (NEAT). The aim of this event was to show a community how it can and should deal with a major project, and where potential opportunities and risks lie. I welcome this proactive stance of the communities. I also noticed that the questions have become more specific: residents want to know which roads the trucks will take. Members of sport-shooting clubs ask if they can continue to use their shooting range – yes, by all means! And others are wondering where the construction workers will be accommodated. We can already answer many questions in principle. For others, we will work together with the region to find answers. Our activities are shifting more and more to the siting region. Eventually, Nagra will move its offices to the region. But we are not there yet.
Guzzella: At the same time, Nagra will change as an organisation. After decades of research and a painstaking site selection process, the future will be about planning and implementing the project in more detail. These changes will take place over longer periods of time. The Board of Directors will ensure that the necessary resources and structures are available. I am very much looking forward to these developments.
Let’s take a look into the future: what are the priorities for the next few years?
Braun: We are now working on the general licence application, which we plan to submit at the end of 2024. We must bear in mind that no shortcuts can be taken in this project – safety cannot be compromised under any circumstances. At the same time, we want to collaborate with the people from the region even more closely than before. Under no circumstances do we intend to leave them to deal with this on their own.
Guzzella: Nagra’s Board of Directors wants to uphold scientific and technical competence – we will ensure the necessary boundary conditions for this. In addition, however, Nagra’s performance capabilities will be enhanced even further at project level. The Board of Directors agrees on this. I also consider the collaboration with the authorities and the region to be goal-oriented and beneficial. Together, we will achieve our objective: a safe deep geological repository.
Nagra annual report
The Inerview is part of the annual report 2022.
“When we are done here, the site will be in as good a condition as it was before – maybe even a little better.”
Dismantling is a success when no one notices a difference from before. This applies to dismantling a drill site and will also apply to the surface of the future deep geological repository.
“Working together towards the best solution”
At today's annual general meeting of Nagra in Bern, the representatives of the Cooperative acknowledged the successful outcome of the challenging business year of 2022 by approving all requests submitted by Nagra's Board of Directors. The project of the century of deep geological disposal is now entering the licensing phase.