Start of a several-year approval process

Bild: HZB

HZB submits its letter of intent to have the last fuel elements from the research reactor BER II stored in Ahaus.

The Berlin experimental reactor BER II of Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie (HZB) will be shut down at the end of 2019. The current fuel elements are still producing neutrons, but the plan is that, after they are shut down and allowed to rest for a decay period of several years, they will be brought to the interim storage site Ahaus for intermediate storage. Deposition at the interim storage site requires official approval from the Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management (BfE). HZB is already submitting a letter of intent to start the approval process now, which will likely also take many years. It is not expected the fuel elements will be able to be transported to Ahaus before 2023.

BER II serves to produce neutrons, which are parts of atomic nuclei, for scientists from around the world to conduct material research at HZB. The neutrons are generated at BER II by nuclear fission in fuel elements made of depleted uranium. Neutrons will still be available for research until the end of 2019. Then, HZB will be shutting down BER II for good. The fuel elements will then have to remain at HZB for many years to allow their residual activity to decline. Then, the plan is to have them transported to the interim storage site Ahaus: HZB has already had a contractually agreed option of interim storage of its fuel elements in Ahaus for quite some time.

To actually have the fuel elements stored in Ahaus starting from 2023, there are a considerable number of approval processes to go through. HZB is therefore already announcing its intent now to the Ahaus storage site operator, the Gesellschaft für Zwischenlagerung (BGZ), to have its fuel elements brought to Ahaus. Upon receiving this letter of intent, the BGZ will then lodge the actual applications for approval with the Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management, BfE.

“We assume the approval process will take several years,” says Dr. Stephan Welzel, the reactor manager at HZB and project manager for the dismantling of BER II. “So that there are no delays to the dismantling of BER II – to which we aspire – we have to get the process rolling now.”