The research neutron source at FRM II prides itself on being one of the most powerful in Europe. Scientists from all over the world are queuing up to carry out their experiments on the TU campus in Garching. The Maier-Leibnitz-Zentrum (MLZ) regularly publishes findings that are internationally recognized. It is cutting-edge and basic research “Made in Germany” that contributes to scientific and technical progress. There are also medical uses that are used directly, for example in the fight against cancer.
In addition to these valuable results, however, the research reactor produces something else that is often forgotten: nuclear waste. Certainly, the FRM II does not consume fuel rods to the same extent as large nuclear power plants for electricity generation, but the remains of the Garching reactor are also an immense problem. To the question “Where to put the radioactive waste?” Politics, business and research have not come up with a real solution since nuclear use began around 70 years ago – in 1957 the Garching nuclear plant was the first reactor in Germany to go into operation. Now time is of the essence. The operating licenses for three interim storage facilities expire in the 2030s, including that of the interim storage facility for fuel elements and high-level radioactive waste in Ahaus, where the spent rods from Garching are also initially to be deposited. Because the cooling tank in Garching is full.
However, it would be too easy to just refer to the approval authorities in this situation. Agreed contracts must be preserved, yes. But a technology as highly complex and fraught with many risks as nuclear power, for the purpose of generating energy as well as for the purpose of research, requires a constant accompanying debate – about safe operation as well as about the long-term effects. Nuclear waste is a legacy that present generations are passing on to future generations as a permanent burden. The challenge of storing this garbage safely, or otherwise handling it in a way that does not pose a threat, should receive much more attention – not only from politicians but also from the scientists who benefit from the technology. Otherwise the reports of success from Garching could be over at some point.