40 years of GRS: GRS celebrates its anniversary at the Fachgespräch conference

08.05.2017

© istockphoto.com/ mattjeacock

GRS is 40 years old this year. The brochure on "The First 40 Years", which has just been published, looks back once again on the highlights of the company history of GRS. Below, we give you a sneak preview of the most important stages and milestones since GRS was founded.

The first decade: from Risk Study to Chernobyl

The birth of GRS. GRS is set up by the Federal Republic of Germany, the Länder of North Rhine-Westfalia and Bavaria, the German Technical Inspection Agencies (TÜV) and technical supervisory organisation Germanischer Lloyd, with operations commencing in 1977. The new company is an amalgamation of the Institute for Reactor Safety of the Technical Inspection Agencies (Institut für Reaktorsicherheit der Technischen Überwachungsvereine- IRS) and the Laboratory for Reactor Control and Plant Safety and Security (Laboratorium für Reaktorregelung und Anlagensicherung - LRA). Initially, the scientists and technical staff work in Cologne and in Garching near Munich.

German Risk Study Nuclear Power Plants. GRS is the first expert organisation in Germany to introduce the methodology of the probabilistic safety analysis (PSA) for the assessment of the safety of technical systems. The German Risk Study Nuclear Power Plants (Deutsche Risikostudie Kernkraftwerke), Phase A, is the first ever example of the application of this methodology at the time.
Three Mile Island.  In 1979, a partial core meltdown occurs in the US Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. GRS analyses the accident sequence and issues recommendations for the enhancement of the safety of the German nuclear power plants on the basis of the analysis results.

Chernobyl. Following the severe nuclear accident at Chernobyl in 1986, GRS is one of the first scientific institutions worldwide to provide information about the cause, sequence and the consequences of the accident. Chernobyl becomes an important topic of research and expert assessment of GRS. Against this background, at the end of the 1980s, GRS and its French partner IPSN (Institut de Protection et de Sûreté Nucléaire) – today's Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire (IRSN) – jointly kick off the Franco-German Initiative. It is the starting point of a partnership that has kept going to this day. The results of the research into Chernobyl are presented in several common research reports.

The second decade: turnaround and growth

Berlin location. Following German reunification, GRS opens its Berlin offices and takes over staff from various nuclear undertakings and institutions of the GDR in 1990. In the wake of the historic turnaround, GRS - on behalf of the Federal Environment Ministry - deals with safety-related issues arising in the new Länder, e.g. the Morsleben repository (ERAM) or the uranium ore mining legacies of the Wismut AG company. After the fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of the Soviet Union, GRS also assesses the safety of East-European nuclear power plants. Here, the transfer of methods and knowledge as well as the support given to the establishment of licensing authorities in line with international standards are important tasks.

Renaming. GRS extends its portfolio by new fields of activity. More and more often, its experts apply their expertise and methods from nuclear engineering to other disciplines, like e.g. space travel. This is also reflected in the new name: in 1991, the company is renamed Gesellschaft für Anlagen- und Reaktorsicherheit (GRS).

Riskaudit and ISTec. In 1992, GRS turns into a multicorporate enterprise by founding the two subsidiaries Institute for Safety Technology (Institut für Sicherheitstechnologie GmbH - ISTec) and Riskaudit. Riskaudit is above all active in European projects promoting nuclear safety. ISTec focuses on methods for diagnostic and safety technology.

Repository research centre in Braunschweig. In 1995, GRS opens a fourth company location in Braunschweig. Having taken over the staff of the Institute for Deep Storage of the local Gesellschaft für Strahlen- und Umweltforschung (GSF), GRS enters a new major field of activity: repository safety research. As of now, GRS also carries out experimental research in its own geoscientific laboratory.

The third decade: international networking and 9/11

EUROSAFE and ETSON. GRS and IRSN intensify their partnership and start the EUROSAFE Initiative. From 1999 onwards, together they host the international EUROSAFE specialist conference under this Initiative.
Seven years later, GRS, IRSN and the Belgian technical safety organisation Bel V form the European Technical Safety Organisations Network (ETSON). From that moment on, a group of by now 16 members jointly strive towards the development of comparable standards and standardised methods for researching and assessing nuclear safety.

International underground laboratories. GRS is also networking in repository research. In order to be able to carry out experiments underground, GRS co-operates with the Swiss Grimsel and Mont Terri underground laboratories as well as with the Swedish ÄSPÖ hard rock laboratory.

World Trade Center. The attack on the World Trade Center in New York on 11 September 2001 gives rise to a new debate about the safety of nuclear power plants. In the aftermath, GRS - together with external partners - looks at the deliberate crash of airliners on German nuclear power plants.

The fourth decade: generation change and Fukushima

Generation change. 2007 sees the beginning of a whole generation of experts going into retirement. GRS manages to replace more than half of its staff and at the same time maintain and develop its technical competence. The good training and further qualification opportunities at GRS ensure a seamless transition.

Fukushima. On 11 March 2011, Japan is struck by a heavy earthquake with a subsequent tsunami. At the Fukushima site, this results in the core meltdown of three reactors. After the accident, on behalf of the Federal Environment Ministry, GRS immediately starts gathering and evaluating information and putting ministries, the media and the general public into the picture about the situation at the site. The Federal Environment Ministry and the Federal Economics Ministry both task GRS with research projects in which amongst other things the exact event sequence is analysed. On that basis, GRS makes recommendations on how the robustness of German nuclear power plants can be further enhanced. The lessons learned from the Fukushima accident are also applied to the establishment of a new emergency centre that is opened at GRS Cologne in 2013.

Repository research. The scientists of GRS set new standards in repository research. Together with other research institutions, GRS develops VIRTUS, the first virtual underground laboratory worldwide. In the VerSi project, an analysis method for comparing repository systems in different host rock types from a safety-related point of view is developed for the first time. With the "Preliminary Safety Analysis Gorleben", GRS - together with the leading German repository research institutions - develops a reference approach to the performance of comprehensive safety analyses.

New fields of work. The experts of GRS are increasingly engaged in new, different fields of research. They look into the handling of hazardous materials (e.g. mercury), the underground storage of hazardous chemical waste, or sustainable adaptation strategies for water management against the background of climatic and demographic change.

What about the future?

GRS will continue pursuing its mission and contributing to the protection of man and the environment through science. Anyone whose interest has now been aroused and wants to find out more about what plans GRS has for the future will find further information in the brochure "The First 40 Years".