Disposal of Radioactive Waste

Types of Radioactive Waste

Waste generation in Switzerland
Different types of radioactive waste and their sources in Switzerland

The Nuclear Energy Ordinance in Switzerland distinguishes the following categories of waste.

Art. 51 Categories of radioactive waste
For the purpose of disposal, radioactive waste is divided into the following categories:

  • high-level waste (HLW):
    • spent fuel (SF) not destined for reprocessing;
    • vitrified fission product solutions from reprocessing of spent fuel;
  • alpha-toxic waste (ATW): waste with a content of alpha-emitters exceeding a value of 20,000 Becquerels per gram of conditioned waste;
  • low- and intemediate-level waste (L/ILW): all other radioactive waste.

For disposal, Nagra allocates the waste to different repository types:

Deep geological repository for HLW/SF for spent fuel and vitrified fission product solutions from reprocessing.

Deep geological repository for low- and intermediate-level waste (L/ILW). 

Spent Fuel (SF) rods canister design
HLW vitrified waste canister design
L/ILW low/intermediate level disposal drum

Overview of Radioactive Waste Disposal

Radioactive waste materials are generated from medicine, industry, research and power generation.

We consume raw materials and energy on a daily basis. This produces gaseous, liquid and solid wastes. Some of this waste can be recycled and the remainder has to be disposed of safely. Respect for the environment, mankind and biota demands that we find and implement waste management solutions.

Radioactive wastes have to be isolated from the human environment for the duration of their toxicity and managed safely. Carefully implemented procedures and proper practices can ensure that no adverse effects will result.

Waste generation in Switzerland
Different types of radioactive waste and their sources in Switzerland

Based on current understanding, many countries, including Switzerland, have concluded that deep geological disposal is the only method for managing radioactive waste that meets the strict requirements relating to long-term safety. Concepts in which safety relies on continuous monitoring by human institutions are not capable of fulfilling these requirements, for long times.

Underground laboratories (URLs), such as Grimsel,  serve an important role in the overall investigation into the long-term disposal of radioactive waste. Together with site-specific tests, laboratory studies and studies of natural analogues, they can assist in developing rigorous databases for the assessment of long-term safety and engineering feasibility of proposed disposal concepts.

The Swiss Federal Council and Parliament have decided that all waste arising in Switzerland will undergo deep geological disposal. Similar decisions have been taken elsewhere, see for example:


See also Research and Development on Nagra's homepage

The Grimsel Test Site (GTS) is a scientific test site and not a potential repository site; although investigations may utilise a wide range of radioactive tracers, no radioactive waste will be disposed of at the GTS.
The GTS underground facilities are also available to interested 3rd parties for underground testing and research. The GTS offers cost-effective access to a fully developed, well characterised underground research facility with round the year logistical support - please contact Dr. Ingo Blechschmidt, Head of the Grimsel Test Site, for further details.
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