Will the Czech Republic have a deep storage facility for disposal of radioactive nuclear waste?


For many it may still seem like 'early days' for a plan drafted by the government ten years ago and overseen by the Bureau for the Storage of Radioactive Waste: a plan to see the Czech Republic build its own deep storage facility over the next 62 years. However, that is a normal time-span in a field dealing with material as sensitive and dangerous as spent radioactive fuel.

Years of preliminary groundwork and geological testing: that is what awaits six locations around the Czech Republic, (five of which lie in either south Bohemia or Vysocina, the Czech-Moravian highlands), scoped as possible sites for a long-term disposal facility for radioactive waste. Slated to "only" go into operation in 2065, the opening of the facility has been timed to coincide with the eventual shutting down of the Czech Republic's two current nuclear power plants, Temelin and Dukovany. Highly radioactive waste from the plants can be temporarily stored, but eventually a stable, permanent disposal site must be found, with the least amount of geological impact, and utmost safety ensured. Engineer Vitezslav Duda, the head of the Bureau for the Storage of Radioactive Waste:

"The time for building such a facility is very long, step-by-step. At first we are focusing on finding the proper site, there is no construction work or anything like that. At later stages there will start some underground research facility. After several years, it may be ten or twenty years of research underground, there will start specific construction work of that deep geological repository."

How big will that facility actually be? How big, and how deep?

"It should be about 500 metres deep - it could be more - and the underground area is around one kilometres by two kilometres large. The surface area would be 500 x 500 metres, might be slightly more..."

How difficult will it be for local villages or towns to accept this kind of project because, understandably, when people hear about radioactive waste they think 'Anywhere else but my backyard'...

"It's one of the most difficult tasks of our company, and it's a really hard task. It's not easy to persuade local inhabitants, but we believe that in time we will succeed to demonstrate that such a facility causes no safety problems, and will have no significant effect on the environment, or on the public. We would like to show them that such facilities can be operated well and safely."

All of the different steps, geologically, a very complicated process of finding the perfect site. Is there a chance you won't find the perfect site at all?

"Uh, there is a risk, a small risk that we, we will eventually not find the perfect site, but the risk is very, very low. Really, I believe that we will succeed."

The project does have another aspect that could somewhat complicate matters, an EU directive that, if passed by the European Council at the end of this year, would require the Czechs build the deep-storage facility by 2018, instead of 2065. That would complicate the payment process of billions of crowns, covered by the utility CEZ; not having all the funds up-front would lead to a temporary rise in energy bills for consumers. Last but not least, the facility going into operation sooner would bring home with new immediacy the idea of having radioactive waste stored permanently nearby, in other words, during one's lifetime. And that, it seems likely, could make the idea of having a deep-storage facility even more difficult to sell.