Risk Analysis

Nuclear Waste Management under Approaching Disaster: A Comparison of Decommissioning Strategies for the German Repository Asse II

Journal Article

This article compares different strategies for handling low‐ and medium‐level nuclear waste buried in a retired potassium mine in Germany (Asse II) that faces significant risk of uncontrollable brine intrusion and, hence, long‐term groundwater contamination. We survey the policy process that has resulted in the identification of three possible so‐called decommissioning options: complete backfilling, relocation of the waste to deeper levels in the mine, and retrieval. The selection of a decommissioning strategy must compare expected investment costs with expected social damage costs (economic, environmental, and health damage costs) caused by flooding and subsequent groundwater contamination. We apply a cost minimization approach that accounts for the uncertainty regarding the stability of the rock formation and the risk of an uncontrollable brine intrusion. Since economic and health impacts stretch out into the far future, we examine the impact of different discounting methods and rates. Due to parameter uncertainty, we conduct a sensitivity analysis concerning key assumptions. We find that retrieval, the currently preferred option by policymakers, has the lowest expected social damage costs for low discount rates. However, this advantage is overcompensated by higher expected investment costs. Considering all costs, backfilling is the best option for all discounting scenarios considered.

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