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The principal objective of a deep geological repository for radioactive waste is to protect human and the environment both in the short term and in the long term. Experts throughout the world agree that storage in rock layers deep below the earth's surface is the only way to guarantee safe disposal over the necessary lengthy period of time. In Switzerland long-term safety will be guaranteed by passive barriers. Monitoring and recoverability are foreseen in the plans for deep geological repositories.
The deep repository host rock offers long-term stability. Source: ENSI
In contrast to an end-storage facility, the deep geological repository concept embodies the principle of recoverability. Deep geological repositories have to guarantee permanent protection for humans and the environment, but they also have to meet the requirement of recoverability imposed by society.

Switzerland's disposal concept makes a distinction between two types of deep geological repository: one for low and intermediate level waste, and one for high-level waste. Deep geological repositories for both waste categories could be constructed at the same site, provided the safety of the site and technical feasibility are not compromised in any way.

Guaranteeing long-term safety

The long-term safety of deep geological repositories is guaranteed through the use of technical (artificial) and natural barriers. Waste is encapsulated in receptacles (technical barriers) and then deposited in dense rock layers (natural barrier).It is then screened off away from humans and the environment for centuries, in the case of highly active waste for up to one million years.


A deep geological repository is filled up gradually to ensure it remains in a passive state. During this time period it is still possible to recover the waste easily. In the long term humans and the environment have to be protected by passive barriers, that is barriers that are effective without human intervention. Once the deep geological repository has been sealed, it would still be possible to recover waste from the repository. This would involve substantial funds and technical know-how.

Related documents

Fact sheet: Deep geological repository; the main facts
Fact sheet: Method of disposal for low and intermediate level waste
Fact sheet: Method of disposal for high-level waste fact sheet

Further information

Radioactive waste
Target: Safety
Phases of a deep geological repository
Host rock
Contact: Seraina Branschi
Last update: 30.11.2011

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