Bilfinger supports radioactive waste retrieval from German salt mine

Asse II Mine
Image credit: Bilfinger

Industrial services company, Bilfinger, has been contracted to ensure the safe retrieval of radioactive waste from the former Asse II mine in Lower Saxony, Germany.

On behalf of the Federal Company for Radioactive Waste Disposal (Bundesgesellschaft für Endlagerung – BGE), a team from Würzburg-based subsidiary Bilfinger Noell is developing special equipment to safely retrieve thousands of casks containing radioactive waste from the Asse II mine shaft.

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Under the four-year contract, the Bilfinger team will work with mining specialist OLKO-Maschinentechnik GmbH to develop and build the special machine prototypes with which the radioactive waste stored in metal casks can be recovered remotely and prepared for removal.

The casks will then be disposed of in accordance with current legislation.

Asse salt mine. Image credit: BGE

“The retrieval of radioactive waste from a decommissioned salt mine is unique in the world and we are pleased that Bilfinger Noell GmbH is lending its support with this technologically very demanding project,” says Jens Köhler, Head of the Asse unit at BGE.

The retrieval work is particularly challenging as the casks are partially buried in salt. Furthermore, the strict requirements of both the mining and nuclear sectors mean that stringent demands are placed on the safety of the equipment.

The special equipment will allow the casks to be safely recovered from a depth of 511 and 725 meters.

Underground: an excavator tilts barrels on a pile.
Waste drums were largely emplaced in the emplacement chambers using the dumping method. Credit: BGE

According to BGE, the Asse II mine is a former salt mine close to the German city of Braunschweig. It has been used as a final repository for radioactive waste since the 1960s, and is home to thousands of metal casks across three levels.

Almost all low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste from Germany was disposed of in the Asse II mine, with some 67% of the waste volume originating from facilities belonging to power companies.

Over the coming decades, the casks will be retrieved so that the radioactive waste can be treated and properly disposed of.

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