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Nuclear waste debate heats up

Nuclear waste in temporary storage at Würenlingen

(Keystone Archive)

Environment Minister Moritz Leuenberger has set up an advisory commission to look into the question of where to store nuclear waste.

In doing so, he wants to reinforce the democratic process and unblock the sticking points in this debate.

Leuenberger said on Thursday that he wanted to have a broad debate about whether to build an underground site for highly radioactive waste near the German border.

Other alternatives must be considered before coming to a decision, he said.

He has drawn up a first draft on choosing a site for storing highly and moderately radioactive waste.

Leuenberger said the disposal documentation must be separated from the debate on the location.

In 2002 Switzerland's National Cooperative for the Disposal of Nuclear Waste submitted to the government plans for a disposal site for highly radioactive waste.

It recommended as a site the village of Benken north of Zurich based on the suitability of the mineral-rich rocks.

Advisory board

Leuenberger announced he had set up a five-person advisory board which would monitor the development of the plans.

He said the board would act as "conscience sharpeners" and ensure the proposals embrace fair, transparent and credible criteria. He added that the choice of site was a delicate matter as far as the democratic process is concerned.

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.

Swisselectric, the association of Swiss electricity-grid companies, announced on Thursday that the nuclear-energy sector is planning to submit – probably in December 2009 – a general approval application for an underground site.

Hans Schweickert, president of Swisselectric, said the initiation of the specialist-planning part of the process meant the geological part of the search for a disposal site had been sealed. Now it was time for political decision-making.

The government has been examining documentation for the disposal of highly radioactive material since 2002. Swisselectric says it expects the cabinet to reach a decision in the second half of next year.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Nuclear energy produces around 40% of Swiss electricity.
There are five nuclear reactors in Switzerland: Beznau (2), Mühleberg, Gösgen and Leibstadt.
Their waste is sent away to be treated or confined in the reactors or the intermediary depot in Würenlingen.
With a view to a final storage place for highly and moderately radioactive waste, Switzerland is looking for a site somewhere in the country that fits the geological plans.

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