25th Anniversary of the Mont Terri Rock Laboratory: Independent research improves safety

The Mont Terri Rock Laboratory has been carrying out geological experiments in the Opalinus Clay since 1996 to assess it as a host rock for the deep geological disposal of Swiss radioactive waste and as a storage rock for CO2. On the occasion of the 25th Anniversary in the town of St Ursanne in the Canton of Jura, Marc Kenzelmann, Director General of the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI), pointed out the great importance of independent research at Mont Terri.

On 4 November 2021, the internationally renowned Mont Terri Rock Laboratory in St Ursanne celebrated its 25th anniversary in the presence of Federal Councillor Viola Amherd, representatives of the Canton of Jura, and the laboratory’s associated research partners.

“Commitment to research at Mont Terri is of central importance to ENSI. Independent research strengthens our mission to provide neutral safety oversight, and consequently serves nuclear safety in Switzerland,” stated Marc Kenzelmann, Director General of the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate ENSI, in his speech to around one hundred guests. “ENSI has long been associated with the research project in the Mont Terri Rock Laboratory. It joined the project at a very early stage – almost 20 years ago,” continued Marc Kenzelmann.

Since the first ENSI experiment in the Mont Terri Rock Laboratory, ENSI has focused on key questions concerning oversight. These include the properties of the rocks, monitoring a deep geological repository and the processes that could affect the long-term safety of a deep geological repository.

For ENSI, networking with research groups at universities is of key importance in being able to define the current state of knowledge as it pertains to its oversight role.

Why ENSI has been conducting research at the Mont Terri Rock Laboratory for the past 20 years

  • ENSI assesses projects and safety cases in the field of nuclear waste disposal. It issues approvals based on the latest state of science and technology. It relies on international research, including the kind of research being undertaken at the Mont Terri Rock Laboratory.
  • This research will provide important background for understanding the processes taking place in a deep geological storage repository. ENSI can draw on this understanding when it carries out safety reviews of proposals to locate deep geological repositories, as part of the sectoral plan process.
  • In the Mont Terri Rock Laboratory, ENSI generates independent comparative data, which is of great importance in assessing the safety and structural feasibility of a deep geological repository sited in Opalinus Clay. The data can then be used for in-house, independent model calculations.
  • The research work makes an important contribution to the preservation and promotion of expertise within ENSI and, not least, helps to make it an attractive employer. In addition, all participants benefit from the valuable international exchange of expertise.

Experiments accessible to the general public at the Mont Terri Rock Laboratory

Only research takes place in the Mont Terri Rock Laboratory in St Ursanne. No deep geological repositories for radioactive waste or underground storage facilities for CO2 are constructed there. The search for locations for deep geological repositories is the subject of a sectoral plan process which is being conducted by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy. Currently, 22 organisations from nine countries are conducting research at the Mont Terri Rock Laboratory. The rock laboratory is under the leadership of the Federal Office of Topography, swisstopo, of the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (VBS), currently headed by Federal Councillor Viola Amherd.

Groups, associations, school and university classes, as well as individuals interested in guided tours can register via the ENSI website or the Mont Terri Mont Rock Laboratory.

Questions on safety and geology from the general public, communes, siting regions, organisations, cantons and affected neighbouring countries can be submitted to ENSI for the attention of the Technical Safety Forum In it, the questions are discussed and answered by experts, and the questions and answers are then made public on the website of the Technical Safety Forum.