Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Klaus Fischer-Appelt (ELS)


What does...a professor at the Institute for Repository Safety at FRE actually do?

Prof. Fischer-Appelt Copyright: © FRE

The interview with Prof. Fischer-Appelt was conducted by Sabine Backus.

S. B.: Welcome to the Division for Mineral Resources and Raw Materials Engineering, Prof. Klaus Fischer-Appelt!

F.-A.: Well, actually we can stay with the "Du" here, too!

S. B.: With pleasure! We are very happy to welcome you in Aachen, even if your start looks a bit different than expected due to the corona.

On November 1, you took over the Institute for Nuclear Waste Disposal and Technology Transfer (NET), which had been temporarily headed by Prof. Preuße for several years after Prof. Thomauske's retirement. Would you briefly introduce yourself to our students and staff?

F.-A.: Of course, with pleasure. My name is Klaus Fischer-Appelt, I am 56 years old, married and have 3 children.

I was born in Aachen and studied geology at the RWTH from 1986 to 1993. In my diploma thesis I dealt with hydrochemical and hydrogeological investigations for the evaluation and containment of contamination in groundwater by volatile chlorinated hydrocarbons in Düsseldorf-Nord.

In 1994, after my studies, I joined the Gesellschaft für Anlagen- und Reaktorsicherheit (GRS) in Cologne. GRS is a gGmbH which is active in all questions of nuclear safety for supervisory and licensing authorities of the federal and state governments. In the first years I worked there on a doctoral position. The content of my doctorate was the application of methods and computational tools for the long-term safety demonstration for repositories, in "slimmed-down" form for the long-term safety demonstration for mines with residual material backfill within the framework of a larger BMBF joint project. By the way, the doctorate was also done at RWTH.

Afterwards, I was taken on by GRS in a permanent position and worked there for 26 years.

My main areas of work were, among others

Advising the Federal Ministry for the Environment in the licensing procedure for the decommissioning of the Morsleben repository
Implementation of analytical approaches for the description of sorption processes of radionuclides on different geomaterials in computational programs for the simulation of the transport of dissolved radionuclides in the subsurface
Development of a methodology for safety-related comparison of repository systems in different host rocks (rock salt, mudstone, crystalline)
Comparison of safety requirements for repositories in different countries
In 2009, I took over the management of the Repository Department at GRS.

From 2010 to 2013, I was project manager of the large-scale research project "Preliminary Safety Analysis for the Gorleben Site". This involved a comprehensive repository safety analysis according to the state of the art in science and technology, taking into account the "Safety Requirements for the Final Disposal of Heat-Generating Waste" of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, which was newly enacted at that time. In addition to 7 other institutions, several institutes of RWTH Aachen University participated very successfully in this project. For me, this was a stroke of luck, because it gave me renewed contact with the university. I had lost this contact shortly after I started working at GRS, mainly because the professors with whom I studied retired almost at the same time.

S. B.: What do you expect from the change to RWTH Aachen? What are your plans?

F.-A.: Well, as a long-time "final repository user" I am convinced that the present society has the responsibility to tackle the challenges associated with the nuclear legacies of the use of nuclear energy now and not to leave them as unavoidable to future generations.

In the current process of searching for a final storage site for highly radioactive waste, I can see that the responsible institutions have a huge need for support from research and for highly qualified young scientists. In this respect, I thought that after 26 years of working for final disposal and the professional experience that goes with it, I could also become useful in teaching, and that I could spray some of the knowledge I have accumulated so far in the remaining years of my career. This was my main motivation to apply for the advertised W3 professorship.

I have resolved to make a decisive contribution to ensuring that, on the one hand, the name RWTH Aachen University will stand in the field of repository research as an undisputedly excellent mark of quality for highly qualified and responsible young scientists, and that the university will assume a leading role in the field of repository research. In other words: I would like to work towards RWTH becoming an institution that will no longer be bypassed in terms of teaching and research in the repository scene.

S. B.: We've heard that you're going to rename NET. Will you tell us the new name and tell us something about the motives for the renaming?

F.-A.: Sure, it's no secret, the new name is "Chair for Repository Safety". The name is meant to embody the teaching content, which is the focus of the planned course of studies. In other words, the final disposal of radioactive waste and all the scientific and technical aspects associated with it. At NET, there is also teaching and research content that is aimed at the topic of radioactive waste disposal, but these are only sub-areas of what I would call the comprehensive topic of radio active waste disposal.

S. B.: The speedy final disposal of radioactive waste is one of the most important tasks facing society today and a major challenge. However, the next generation of scientists in this field is relatively thin on the ground. This is a question that is certainly of particular interest to our students: A new master's program is planned. What is the current state of affairs?

F.-A.: My colleague Frank Charlier and I are currently busy realigning the teaching content of NET and launching the new master's program. Unfortunately, it takes time to establish such a program: Our hopes of starting in the winter semester of 2021 have been dashed, and it will probably not be possible until 2022. However, there is already the opportunity to listen to the wise words of Charlier & Fischer-Appelt® in the Bachelor's program "Sustainable Resources and Energy Supply" as part of the elective course "Repository Concepts"! (laughs)

Generally speaking, dealing with the topic of final disposal has a future. Assuming that a site for a repository for highly radioactive waste could actually be found, as required by the Site Selection Act, it would still have to undergo a licensing procedure lasting several years. Together with the necessary construction of the repository infrastructure, we could start emplacing waste containers in 2045 at the earliest, a procedure that (without significant operational disruptions) would easily take 40-60 years. The subsequent closure of the repository will also take another 10-20 years. So even with time-optimistic estimates, we will definitely enter the next century with the matter: work for generations.

In designing the new master's program, it is important to us to make the teaching of the subject matter clear and easy to grasp. We are also planning to make our teaching modern and flexible in the sense of blended learning through the targeted use of media. I'm excited to see what's possible. Nevertheless, I hope that we will soon have decisively brought Mr. SARS-CoV-2 to his knees and that face-to-face lectures can take place again. I have a hard time with the rather impersonal zoom encounters, especially because I get very little feedback from the students for technical reasons. But that's exactly what I need at the moment as a new professor.

But that's really the only downside. All in all, I feel very comfortable here at the RWTH, I have a lot of fun at work, where the wide scope for creativity makes many a creative vein swell, and I enjoy the very nice contact with my colleagues, who have welcomed me very warmly here and whom I look forward to seeing every morning, if it's not the weekend.

S. B.: Many thanks for the informative interview and a good start in Aachen!