By 2026 at the latest, the space in the Central Office for Radioactive Waste of the State of Berlin (ZRA) will no longer be sufficient. At the end of last year, there were already 784 cubic meters of low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste in the warehouse on the Wannsee site of the Helmholtz Center Berlin (HZB) – the hall from the 1980s has a capacity of 800 cubic meters.

“It is currently assumed that the capacity of the existing ZRA warehouse will be sufficient until at least 2025,” Hemholtz spokeswoman Silvia Zerbe told the Tagesspiegel. The Helmholtz Center operates the ZRA on behalf of the state. It is currently still unclear what will happen to the radioactive waste from industry, hospitals and research after 2025.

An expansion of the ZRA is planned; However, according to the Helmholtz Center, construction of an additional storage facility cannot begin until 2027 at the earliest. The new hall could then go into operation in 2030. The main committee asked. The main committee of the House of Representatives became aware of the problem with the storage of Berlin’s radioactive waste during the current budget deliberations.

MEPs wanted to know why the draft budget earmarked an additional 2.5 million euros for the operation of the ZRA in 2022 and another million euros for 2023. State Secretary for Science Armaghan Naghipour (independent) informed the main committee in a submission on May 10 that these are planning costs.

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Around 70 percent of the planning services for the new hall are to be put out to tender in 2022, which requires additional funds of 2.5 million euros for the current year. “The HZB can only issue the tender if there is corresponding coverage in the business plan,” said the State Secretary. The “Berliner Morgenpost” had first reported on the submission to the main committee.

The State Secretary explains why the storage bottlenecks in Wannsee came about as follows: When the ZRA was planned and built about forty years ago, it was assumed that in Berlin there would only be interim storage of the radioactive waste until the nationwide repository in the Konrad mine near Salzgitter began operating must take place.

“Due to the repeated and continued postponement of the commissioning of the repository, there is a need to expand the capacity of the Berlin state collection point.” However, the limited storage options for radioactive waste have been known to the Senate since 2018.

“The available capacities of the ZRA were already the subject of an exchange in 2018 between the HZB, the responsible department (currently the Senate Department for Science, Health, Nursing and Equal Opportunities) and the State Office for Occupational Safety and Health responsible for approving the handling of radioactive substances, Health protection and technical safety in Berlin” writes the press office of the Senate Science Administration to the Tagesspiegel.

The result of the consultations was “to realize the construction of a new warehouse”. The press office did not answer the question why the new building should not begin until 2027, although the problem had been recognized nine years earlier. The new warehouse is expected to cost a little over 15 million euros. According to Helmholtz spokeswoman Silvia Zerbe, the HZB has so far only submitted a needs program to the Senate, preliminary planning documents do not yet exist.

One thing is certain: the new hall should offer space for 700 cubic meters of conditioned low-level and intermediate-level radioactive waste. “If the volume of waste was the average for the years 2012 to 2017, the capacity of the new warehouse to be built would be secured until 2060,” said the spokeswoman. How big the new building will be and where exactly it will be erected has not yet been decided.

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That would only be determined as part of the approval and implementation planning – it is the planning work that is to be awarded this year. According to the Helmholtz Center, people in Wannsee don’t have to worry about their safety even with a new hall.

The new warehouse will be built according to the highest safety standards, “the population is protected at all times from being released by accidents beyond design basis, such as terrorist attacks,” says HZB spokeswoman Zerbe. What will happen to the capital’s radioactive waste between 2026 and 2030 – by which time the old warehouse will be full and the new hall has not yet been built – is an open question.

“Various options for further compression of the waste and, if necessary, its temporary storage are currently being examined,” explains the press office of Science Senator Ulrike Gote (Greens). Theoretically, the planned repository for low- and medium-level radioactive substances, the Konrad shaft, could provide relief in five years. From 2027, it is expected to absorb 303,000 cubic meters of nuclear waste over the coming decades.

But even if the repository were to start operations in 2027, it would not be foreseeable when the first nuclear waste from Berlin could be stored. Because nationwide, the central offices for radioactive waste are overcrowded, and there is a traffic jam at interim storage.

As reported, the radiant remains of the research reactor BER I are still lying in the Wannsee soil – it was shut down 50 years ago. Since then, the state and federal governments have been arguing about the costs of dismantling and disposing of the remaining ruins. As the daily mirror unanimously learned from the Helmholtz Center and the Senate Science Administration, the federal and state governments have now “approved the implementation of a concept study for the dismantling of BER I”. The tender for the study is ongoing.

An interim success. It remains to be seen whether BER I will actually be excavated in the foreseeable future. The official choice of words from Berlin is cautious: “Based on the results of the study, further talks between the federal and state governments will take place.”