Since the James Bond series is still going strong (see last night’s Oscar homage), I have a location suggestion for the next film: Mont Terri, Switzerland. It has it all- international intrigue, an underground nuclear research laboratory, all perfectly situated above a beautiful gothic style village.
A little bit of background: In the late 1980’s while Mont Terri was being excavated for a potential motorway tunnel, researchers identified Opalinus Clay in the mountain. As it turns out this kind of clay is uniquely suited for containing radioactive waste. By the mid-1990s a research facility was underway to fully analyze the clay. Research continues today and the Swiss have identified multiple sites that contain deposits of Opalinus clay at the proper depth for a repository- Mont Terri itself cannot be considered. The process of finding a community willing to host the repository has begun, and this human factor will ultimately determine when and where the site is constructed.
Many parties are carefully watching the research happening at Mont Terri- and new partners are coming aboard each year, including the U.S. Department of Energy just last year. The level of international cooperation at the site is impressive, and an important reminder of how uniquely interconnected the global nuclear industry really is. Each successful waste repository that is built benefits the industry as a whole in terms of identifying proper geological formations, conducting research and development of waste management technologies, and finding ways to work with surrounding communities to gain their permission and support to create such sites. These are not small problems individually- and when you put them all together it can be quite precarious. As we’ve seen in the U.S. at Yucca Mountain, even if you get the geology and R & D right- you may still be shut down if you don’t have the adequate political and community support. This problem is especially pressing in the U.S. since we have put a hold on license applications until we have a plan for our nuclear waste.
Understanding the interface of technical and human challenges in the nuclear sector is fascinating to me, and Mont Terri is a wonderful example of how to navigate these issues.
Below is a gallery of my visit with more interesting information in the captions. For my friend Diane back in Spartanburg, I hope that these photos start to answer two of your questions, which are included in the slideshow! Now everyone just hum the theme songs from Skyfall as you click through…
A big “Thank you” to both the European Nuclear Society and the Mont Terri Rock Laboratory for the excellent tour!