101.7 FM IN GENEVA DAB+, CABLE & SATELLITE ACROSS SWITZERLAND
The entrance to the Grimsel Test Site is 1,700 meters above sea level and testing goes on 400 meters deep within the mountain. The site is a tunnel or a lot of tunnels big enough for workers to drive their cars in.
Inside it is very tunnel-like: cavernous, damp, musty-smelling, 13 degrees all year and of course echoey.
INGO BLECHSCHMIDT TO HEINZ SAGER (in German)
That’s Ingo Blechschmidt, manager of the site, yelling to Heinz Sager, communications director.
The tunnel is nearly a kilometer long, and as you go from end to end, you see about a dozen ongoing experiments.
Most of them deal with the environment around radioactive material: like how gas from the material is release or how certain substances act like sealants to radioactive casings when water is added.
BLECHSCHMIDT: Yeah, you can test equipment which you would like to use in a real repository at a later stage and these sites are used to understand processes to test concepts and to test emplacement concepts. So it is a playground and you cannot do anything wrong.
Basically the site provides the closest thing to a real-life nuclear repository without actually being a nuclear repository.
And even though the site doesn’t store large amounts of radioactive material here, the idea of storing nuclear material anywhere is controversial. And this site does help other countries do that.
HELMICK: What’s your take on putting radioactive material in the environment around you?
“So it is a playground and you can not do anything wrong.”
BLECHSCHMIDT: Maybe you should come up with a different question. You should ask, “What to do else with the material?” And I think that the disposal of radioactive waste in the geological repositories, as we call it, that is the best concept we have.
Since tests have to be as close to the real thing as possible, there is radioactive material here.
BLECHSCHMIDT: So as I’ve said this is a radio protection controlled zone. So we will act as a group that means we have to stay close to each other. Don’t touch anything. Don’t eat and drink.
HELMICK: What is this you are doing now?
BLECHSCHMIDT: I will take this dosing meter.
HELMICK: So if for some reason the radioactive material (was exposed) it would start clicking or beeping?
BLECHSCHMIDT: No, it will be proved later. Once a month.
HELMICK: So we won’t know right now? We won’t know, like now?
BLECHSCHMIDT: No, you can’t see anything and, as I said, there is no risk at the moment.
This controlled study is an international one with about ten country partners. It uses what is called a radioactive tracer. Blechschmidt says there is more radioactivity coming from the granite tunnel than from the tracer.
But he says the tracer will provide insight into how large amounts of radioactive material will react in the experiment if or when countries develop repositories of their own.
Many countries are taking another look at nuclear power, especially as other energy costs continue to spike. But it’s not without controversy, as many people don’t want such material in their own backyard. In the meantime, the Swiss test site tucked away high in the Alps will continue to test new innovative ways for storing radioactive waste.
Alex Helmick, World Radio Switzerland at the Grimsel Test Site.