RWTH Aachen University Student Chapter

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SPE Student Chapter Aachen: 1,100 m below the ground

Visit of BGR and Schacht Konrad repository

Report written by Julia Schmitz (MSc student Applied Geosciences at RWTH Aachen University)

On the 27th of June we visited with a group of 11 students the BGR (Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources) in Hannover. We were warmly welcomed by Bettina Lanzmann, who is responsible for public relations concerning the final disposal of nuclear waste. At first, we got an introduction by her about the institution itself and the collaboration with the ministry of economics, the federal state and the LBEG (State Office of Mining, Energy and Geology). The BGR has been established in 1958 and has about 1,000 employees which work in 4 departments concerning resources, groundwater and soil, underground storage, and geoscientific information and international cooperation. The BGR consults the BGE (Federal company for radioactive waste disposal) in terms of final disposal of nuclear waste, CO2 underground storage, cavern and geothermal energy. We got a deeper insight of the different types of nuclear waste, how it is temporarily and finally stored in a permanent disposal site.

Our group in front of the BGR in Hannover. Foto: Nils Chudalla

The nuclear waste disposals nowadays are located in salt rocks like Morsleben and the Asse II mine, or marl- and clay-rich formations like Konrad repository with an iron-bearing layer. The BGR has now 60 years of experience with salt. Besides that, there are international collaborations with France and Switzerland, where a rock laboratory is located. It runs with 16 partners from 9 different countries in a cooperation with BGR since 20 years.

Nuclear waste disposal are highly discussed in media and society. Even though, society is provided with scientific data about the suitability of Gorleben as a nuclear waste disposal, it is hard to work against journalism and it’s opinion-forming. Since then, the planes are sheltered for an indefinite period of time.

Afterwards, we got access to the incredibly large drill core storage with about 30,000 meters of cores. We have seen different sizes of cores and blocks of samples from the different nuclear waste deposits or the potential ones. Furthermore, we had a guidance through the laboratory facilities of the drill core storage, like sample preparation and the triaxial cells as well as X-ray fluorescence analysis (RFA). One of the largest triaxial cells is located at the BGR which can generate a weight of 250 tons and a temperature up to 400 °C. Most of the experiments are done with claystone besides salt.

Cross sections of the Stassfurt-rock salt, Leine-rock salt and Afler-rock salt inside the drill core storage

Our tour through the laboratory ended just in time to watch the world championship game of the German team on this afternoon. The BGR invited us to their own public viewing and we were provided with drinks and snacks. It was a great pleasure to experience such a hospitality and of course a deep insight of their facilities!

We went a bit depressed back on the road to make our way to the hostel in Goslar. In the evening we had a pizza and tasted one of the local beers, after having a look at the stunning city centre of Goslar.

Luckily, one of our students had birthday on the next day and had hopefully one of the greatest experience on that special day. We headed to the information office of the Konrad repository, where we got a short introduction from Arthur Junkert.

The Konrad repository is located in Salzgitter (Lower Saxony). The approval process lasted for about 20 years. The permission for the construction and operation of the repository was granted in 2007 and the former iron ore mine is currently being converted into a repository. Up to 303,000 m3 of low and intermediate level radioactive waste will be stored here. The commissioning of the repository was just shifted from 2022 to 2027.

Our evening in Goslar.

Arrived at the Konrad repository, Johannes Schneider geologist and now responsible for public relations, gave us a short safety instruction for going down into the mine. A red overall, safety googles and boots, light, helmet and self-rescuer, even underwear and socks were provided. For our guided tour we also got in-ears to follow the information from Johannes Schneider.

On our way to the lift down, we met several miners. Since it is a traditional German miners’ greeting, everybody welcomed our group with “Glück auf!”. Our first stop was at level 3 which is 1,000 m below ground. From there we drove a winding road down to level 4 at a depth of 1,100 m. The way down we passed tunnels where the new workshop for mechanics is build and the huge vehicle park. At the greatest depth we definitely felt the high temperature of up to 40 °C and we experienced ourselves the importance of the control of mining air.

We got the great opportunity to get samples of halite but in fact, no one of us geologist brought our geologist hammers with us. Back at the surface, samples of the iron-bearing layer as well as sample bags were provided. We also got the possibility to take shower after the trip below the ground and had a refreshment with lunch and drinks. We are very thankful for the warmly hospitality and this unique experience!

On our way to a fresh drilled part of the future repository which is secured by rock bolts and lots of sprayed concrete.