Doubts raised over dumping nuclear waste abroad

Switzerland has five nuclear reactors, including two in Beznau (picture) Keystone

Switzerland is taking part in a European project to find a suitable disposal site for international nuclear waste.

This content was published on May 11, 2004 - 14:40

But the Swiss authorities are not convinced of the feasibility of the project and would prefer to find their own solution.

Hans Issler of Switzerland’s National Cooperative for the Disposal of Nuclear Waste (Nagra) said it was in Switzerland’s interests to seek international cooperation.

But he told swissinfo that this did not take precedence over the search for a domestic answer to the problem of highly radioactive nuclear waste.

Fourteen European countries are taking part over the next two years in the research project, which is co-funded by Switzerland.

The Swiss authorities approved a SFr220,000 ($169,610) credit last December.

“The aim of the project is to set the framework for a possible multinational storage site within the enlarged EU,” said the private Association for Regional and International Underground Storage (Arius), which coordinates the project.

Russian offer

Arius project manager Charles McCombie said it was much too early to decide on a storage site. Two years ago Russia expressed an interest in building the facilities.

The Swiss authorities rejected the offer on security grounds.

“We would have to step up international monitoring considerably before a storage site in Russia could be considered a serious option,” McCombie added.

The Federal Energy Office said it still made sense for Switzerland to join forces with countries in eastern and central Europe as well as neighbouring Austria and Italy, which have no nuclear power plants.

“The big countries, such as Germany, France and Britain, want to find their own solutions,” said Marianne Zünd of the Energy Office.

Exporting the problem

The environmental organisation, Greenpeace, is categorical in its dismissal of the project.

“The nuclear industry is simply trying to export a national problem.

“Russia has no environmental standards and its population is already suffering from the negative aspects of nuclear energy,” Yves Zenger of Greenpeace Switzerland told swissinfo.

The Federal Energy Office acknowledges that it could be difficult to justify Swiss participation in a possible waste site abroad because it has a legal obligation to store its nuclear waste in Switzerland.

“I think we will have to find a domestic solution,” Zünd told swissinfo.


In the past Switzerland has sent its spent fuel rods to plants in La Hague, France, and Sellafield in Britain, for reprocessing before reimporting the waste.

Efforts to build a storage site for highly- and moderately radioactive waste in Switzerland have made little progress over the past two decades. In 2002 voters rejected a proposal for an underground site near Lucerne.

Nagra, which is charge of storage facilities, is currently evaluating a project in eastern Switzerland.

swissinfo, Urs Geiser


Switzerland has five nuclear reactors but no storage facilities for highly-radioactive nuclear waste.
The first commercial plant became operational in 1969.
The waste is currently sent to France and Britain for reprocessing.
Nuclear power accounts for about 40% of energy production in Switzerland

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