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General information: Repository projects

1. Statutory basis and organisational implementation

In the Federal Republic of Germany, legislators decided to make the federal government responsible for establishing facilities for the disposal of nuclear waste in 1976 (Section 9a (3) of the Atomic Energy Act, Atomgesetz, AtG). The actual implementation of this task was entrusted to the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) (Section 23 (1) 2 of the AtG). The BfS is one of the executive agencies under the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB), which is responsible for functional and legal supervision of the implementation of repository-related tasks. In nuclear waste disposal issues, the BMUB also relies on the knowledge and experience of independent experts, both domestic and international. The Nuclear Waste Management Commission (ESK) was established for this purpose. The ESK is an independent body of scientists who advise the BMUB on nuclear waste management.

Pursuant to Section 9a (3) sentence 2 and section 23 (1) 2 of the AtG, the BfS may avail itself of the services of third parties in fulfilment of its obligations. For this reason, the BfS concluded a cooperation agreement with the German Specialised Engineering Company for Disposal of Radioactive Waste (Deutsche Gesellschaft zum Bau und Betrieb von Endlagern für Abfallstoffe mbH, DBE) and entrusted the DBE with carrying out the planning, construction and operation of repositories. The BfS remains responsible for conceptualisation. Asse GmbH, a third party as defined by Section 9a (3) sentence 2 of the AtG, is implementing the decommissioning of the Asse II mine site on behalf of the BfS.

The authorisation of a federal repository for radioactive waste through licence or plan approval remains, nonetheless, an essential responsibility of the federal government following the commissioning of the repository or the legal establishment of a repository site on the basis of the Repository Site Selection Act (Standortauswahlgesetz, StandAG). More information can be found in the StandAG.

Plan approval can be granted in one step or in a multi-step process (advance notice, partial plan approval decisions, similar to the approval for nuclear power plants). Lower Saxony is the nuclear regulatory approval authority for the Konrad disposal site until approval for commissioning is granted. Until the plan approval decision is executable, Saxony-Anhalt will remain the nuclear regulatory approval authority for the Morsleben repository, which is undergoing a pending administrative procedure on its decommissioning.

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2. Financing arrangements in Germany

2.1 In accordance with the polluter pays principle, the producers and suppliers of radioactive waste, e.g. nuclear power plant operators, are legally obligated to bear the current and future costs for the repository site selection procedure and disposal (establishment and operation costs), including costs incurred by the possible future decommissioning of the repository (Sections 21a and 21b of the AtG in conjunction with the Repository Prepayment Ordinance (Endlagervorausleistungsverordnung, EndlagerVIV) and the StandAG). Waste producers also bear all costs before delivery to a repository site or a Land collection site, e.g. costs for conditioning and storage, in accordance with the applicable legal provisions.

Thus, the following applies:

  • Until the commissioning of repository sites::
    Financing, in particular the financing of the planning and construction of repositories, is covered by contributions levied from waste producers (Section 21b (1) of the AtG). Until an ordinance has been issued levying the contributions, the costs of the repository will be primarily financed through advance payments against contributions. In accordance with the Repository Prepayment Ordinance (EndlagerVIV), the BfS levies advance payments to cover necessary expenses for planning, acquisition of real estate and rights, facility-related research and development, the maintenance of land and facilities and the construction, expansion and renewal of facilities. Advance payments will be credited towards the contributions, in accordance with Section 21b (1) of the AtG. Section 21b (2) of the AtG also stipulates that these contributions must be made by any party which stands to benefit from the opportunity of utilising federal facilities for the controlled disposal of radioactive waste pursuant to Section 9a (3) of the AtG.
  • Sections 21ff. of the StandAG introduced a new system for distributing costs to ensure that waste producers finance necessary activities. These provisions regulate keeping the Gorleben mine open in accordance with Section 29 of the StandAG as well as the eventual decommissioning of the mine at a later date. They also cover the search for and selection of a repository site for heat-generating high-level radioactive waste in accordance with the StandAG.
  • For the operation of repositories:
    According to Section 21a of the AtG, the parties obliged to surrender materials to the repositories will be charged for costs (fees and expenses) for the use of the federal sites pursuant to Section 9a (3) of the AtG.
  • There is an exception for producers of small amounts of radioactive waste: As long as these producers have paid what is known as a repository cost contribution (Endlagerkostenanteil) as a part of the fees or charges upon delivery to a Land-level collection site, they will be exempt from further payments as a general rule.

2.2 Given the time scale involved, ensuring the financing of dismantling and decommissioning as well as the disposal of radioactive waste is a very important topic.

Section 249 of the German Commercial Code (Handelsgesetzbuch, HGB) sets out a general obligation for all companies to build reserves for possible future liabilities. The exact amount of and the specific point in time when such liabilities may arise is uncertain, but it is to be expected with reasonable certainty that they will exist or arise and that the funds will be needed. Thus, nuclear power operation companies have to establish reserves accordingly to fulfil future financial obligations for the dismantling and decommissioning of the power plants and the disposal of spent fuel elements and radioactive waste generated during operation and decommissioning.

To this end, energy utilities have entered approximately 40 billion euros in reserves on the liability side of their balance sheets (as at the end of 2015). These businesses have full responsibility to cover the costs according to the polluter pays principle. In this, it must be ensured that the necessary funds will be available when needed.

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3. Costs of the individual repository projects and repository research

3.1 Konrad repository

The total costs of the construction of the Konrad repository are currently calculated to be approximately 3.4 billion euros and, corresponding to waste generation levels, around a third of this sum will come from the public purse and around two-thirds from waste producers.

3.2 Morsleben repository (ERAM)

The costs for the Morsleben repository accumulated between German reunification in 1991 and the end of 2013 stand at about 1.1 billion euros. The total project costs are estimated to be around 2.4 billion euros.

3.3 Gorleben salt dome

The Gorleben project generated costs of around 1.74 billion euros between 1977 and the end of 2013. Additional costs for the Gorleben site will depend on various factors, such as how long it is kept open. Therefore it is not yet possible to provide concrete figures.

3.4 Asse II mine

Between 1993 and the end of 2013, ca. 735 million euros were spent on the Asse II mine. Total costs for the decommissioning of the Asse II site cannot be estimated currently.

Asse legislation (Lex Asse)

The act adopted by the Bundestag on 28 February 2013 stipulates that radioactive waste is to be retrieved from the Asse II mine with regard to its safe decommissioning and aims to allow work to proceed more swiftly.

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Last update: 21.02.2017