Editorial - VGB PowerTech Journal 5/2016

Preserving, sharing and expanding knowledge

One of the central challenges in the field of nuclear technology is to preserve competence and technical know-how as well as the expertise born of experience, and to ensure knowledge exchange and transfer. It is only in this way that our high level of national safety and security can be guaranteed, and quality and safety improved throughout the world.

30 years after Chernobyl and five years after Fukushima, nuclear safety and security continue to take highest priority in Germany – for the ongoing reliable operation of the nuclear power plants, and also for the decommissioning and dismantling phase and the disposal of spent fuel and radioactive waste. This emphasis on safety and security is clear from the continuing debates in the German parliament, questions asked by the different political parties and statements from various NGOs. European neighbours are also in the picture: current discussions regarding nuclear plants in Belgium and France close to the German border have led to more intensive communication between the German authorities and their neighbours with regard to safety-related questions and requirements. Bilateral agreements have already been reached with seven of our nine neighbouring countries, and establishment of a joint working group is currently being agreed with Belgium.

To ensure a safe and secure decommissioning and dismantling and also reliable interim and final storage of the radioactive waste from both the technical and financial points of view, the Federal Government has established a Commission to review the financing of the nuclear phase-out, which has now presented an agreed proposal. The costs should be borne by the originators, with the stipulation that the responsible organisations are financially capable of fulfilling their obligations regarding nuclear technology over the long term. At the same time, the work of the Commission for storage of high-level radioactive waste is approaching its goal. By mid-2016, presentation of the final report should conclude the first stage of the newly-launched project to find a suitable location for a final repository for highly-active waste. Further work will then follow until a fully operational final repository is available for use, at the earliest around the mid-21st century.

A vital factor in the way we approach questions of nuclear safety and security in Germany is the regulatory and supervisory system, within which all participants have clearly defined tasks and responsibilities – the plant operators, the regulatory and supervisory authorities and the independent inspection organisations. During their entire lifetime, from construction to decommissioning, nuclear plants in Germany are subject to state supervision by the responsible regional authorities. In order to fulfil their obligations, these authorities have for many decades particularly made use of officially recognized technical experts especially from the TÜV organisations. Precisely this decentralised responsibility structure in the Federal States, with its high level of technical competence, rapid decisionmaking processes and tried-and-tested procedures, is an important guarantor of today’s excellent levels of quality and safety. Alongside the supervisory authorities, operators, research institutions or industry associations, the independent inspection organisations are committed to promoting nuclear expertise in Germany and many other countries, and to achieving the highest-possible safety standards. An important part of this is the secondment of experts to work in central committees and commissions.

The conscientious efforts of long-established bodies such as the reactor safety, radiation protection, and radioactive waste disposal commissions play a special role in Germany. Based on their proven expertise, German experts have gained an international reputation and contribute their know-how and know-why to many different organisations such as the IAEA and ENSREG.

International networking and exchange of experience are absolutely necessary in order to hold global discussions on, for example, organisation structures in the area of reactor safety or preventive and emergency measures. These also form the basis for granting approvals, and for recognition of errors and defects and introduction of measures for improvement. Such international cooperation has made it possible, among other things, to implement an efficient programme for Europe-wide safety assessment of nuclear power plants – the so-called stress test – within the shortest possible time, and to underpin it with sustainable measures.

So let us combine our strengths to keep our knowledge alive, expanding it and sharing on the international stage.