date: 2008-11-12

The German government demands that nuclear waste is stored safely underground in salt formations, clay layers or granite for a million of years from the year 2035 on. The casks with nuclear waste have to be intact for 500 years. Moreover the government demands that data on this waste are kept safe for at least 500 years. On these demands the Ministry of Environment held a conference in Berlin from 30 October to 1 November that was attended by 300 participants.

Minister of Environment Sigmar Gabriel opened the conference. He stated that the high radioactive waste is about 10% of the total amount of radioactive waste, but 99% of the total radioactivity, that will be accumulated at the year 2040. A total of about 24,000 m3 of high active waste has to be put in a storage place from not later than 2035, because from then the licenses for temporary storage at the nuclear power stations expires.
Since 1977 research takes place in and around the salt formation at Gorleben. The choice for Gorleben remains an enigma, relevant data are not made public, stated Anselm Tiggemann who has investigated this matter. In 1976 the federal government named as potential repository sites the salt formations of Wahn, Lutterloh and Lichtenhorst (all of them in Northern Germany). In 1977 the government of Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen) chose for Gorleben. Gabriel remarked on this saying that “the other three were judged safer”,
Untill 2000, in Gorleben around 1.4 billion euros has been spent for research and construction of part of the the pit dug specifically for the purpose of the storage of the waste. In 2000 the government decided to install a moratorium on further research in Gorleben of a minimum of three years and a maximum of ten years. Meanwhile alternatives should be investigated. But almost nothing has been done in search of an alternative. Proponents of nuclear energy want to go on with Gorleben. Gabriel on this: “Suppose that I want to continue with Gorleben as the sole disposal site. What in case the judge forbids the storage? Then there is no underground storage in 2035. The temporary storage sites are then final storage sites, though they are not designed for that.” Therefore the minister wants to investigate more locations and then to chose the best one out of these. The choice for Gorleben has been made “without involving the community”, Gabriel said. The experiences with the salt formation at Asse at which casks with low radioactive waste have been leaking, show “that there haven’t been made adequate safety analyses,” he said, “That has to be changed now and done better.”

Walter Hohlefelder from the German Atomic Forum wants to lift the moratorium on Gorleben immediately. He is convinced the salt formation meets the requirements that have been made in the past and that the nuclear waste has to be stored there. He admitted that he was amazed about the choice of Gorleben at the time: “Gorleben is situated near the border with the former East Germany (GDR). In our circles there was a fear that the GDR should tap that nuclear waste and take it away. Now the GDR no longer exists we found we have to go on with Gorleben. Only if Gorleben appeared to be not safe, we have to choose another location. Alternative locations are known, but we don’t want to charge these regions with a discussion on nuclear waste,” Hohlefelder said accompanied by a loud yelling boo from the public.

The available alternatives were made clear by Volkmar Bräuer of the Federal Office for Geology and Raw Material (Bundesanstalt für Geowisenschaften und Rohstoffe - BGR): in south Germany there are ten regions with granite; in north Germany there has been done 25,000 drillings in clay at which they found clay that is at least as good as they have found in the French place Bure that is on the list for storing nuclear waste. In north Germany there are at least five salt formations five salt formations considered suitable by Bräuer. Besides the earlier named formations Wahn, Lutterloh and Lichtenhorst, he named Zwischenahn and Waddekath. Wolfram König of the Federal Bureau for Radiation Protection (BFS, (http://www.bfs.de/en/bfs) stressed that in the case of Gorleben the population was kept out of it. The decisions were taken on the basis of the Mine Law. According to this law only people that have interests in mining can ligitate -and there are only a few people that have such interests.
Bräuer expects that the next government (after the general elections in 2009) should take a decision on the procedures to come to a final disposal facility. And that they want to make use of experiences in other countries.

Hans Riotte of the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) in Paris stated that the NEA generally assumes an irreversible decision process: because participants learn from each other, they will also start to trust each other. The procedures have to be transparent and the criteria have to be clear. The different parties, among which the local groups, have to “get time and opportunity to build knowledge, therefore need also to have the financial possibility for this,” Riotte said.


Country Expected start of disposal
U.S.A.  After 2017
Finland 2020
Sweden 2020
France 2025
Begium 2030
Russia After 2025
Germany 2035
Japan 2035
Canada After 2035
Switzerland 2040
U.K. 2040
  Source: NEA

Hans Wanner of the Head Department Safety Nuclear Facilities (www.hsk.ch) in Switzerland added his country did start a transparent and open process in 2006. First: in three stages a number of locations are chosen, which are then reduced to two locations and finally one location remains. At each stage the parliament decides and (if 50.000 Swiss demand it) there can be held a referendum.

Gordon MacKerron of the University of Sussex explained that in Great-Britain several disposal plans were met by resistance from the population and were halted. Therefore, in 1997, the authorities decided to involve the public. Scientific organizations didn’t agree with that, because in their vision the science was not taken serious with that. In 2007 the government started with a new round of discussions. The decision at the beginning of 2008 to build new nuclear power plants made the situation confusing. “Because it really is different to talk about present nuclear waste (legacy waste) that you have to store anyway, or about new nuclear waste that possibly don’t have to be produced,” MacKerron stated.

Ortwin Renn of the University of Stuttgart has done much research on the acceptance of risks. “There will be resistance at each possible storage location, no matter if the authorities invent new procedures,” he said. “Environmental organizations will prevent storage as long as there are plans to build more nuclear power stations. And these plan continue to exist, so now we have the same arguments for already 30 years over and over again.”
Renn asked himself how to proceed. He has 4 possible solutions but rejects the first three instantly: “First of all, there will be a government that has to take a decision on final disposal of nuclear waste, anyhow.” But in any case, that will be too late to meet the 40-year license deadline, and therefore not fair to people living near temporary storage facilities who were promised that in 40 years time the waste will be removed. The government can – second possibility – decide to designate Gorleben as final disposal site, however that will decrease the believe in democracy a lot. A third possibility is to send the waste (for many billions of euros) to a foreign location: Eastern Europe for instance. However, this will make clear that the German government doesn’t want to bear the consequences of nuclear energy. Fourth possibility: start all over again; with multiple locations, with input of the general public, and give the population the right to veto, even if the government would proceed with that specific location,” Renn said. “First there has to be agreement on the criteria for disposal-site and the procedures for decision-making. And the responsibility has to be shared honestly.”

Armin Grunwald of the Research Center Karlsruhe continued on the subject: “How do we give that responsibility shape and contents? In the current situation there is a hardening of conflicts on nuclear energy and nuclear waste. We have to take a step back, to try to relax those positions. Only then an honest debate can be possible.”

After his introduction Grunwald chaired a working group on ethical questions. Wichert von Holten, clergyman in the Gorleben-region, posted the question: how we can be responsible for storage during one million years? How can the situation in Gorleben improve? In his view, every nuclear waste transport to the above-ground interim storage in Gorleben means more pressure on the decision to go ahead with the underground final-disposal site in Gorleben too, no matter what.
This view of Von Holten was sharpened by people from the Gorleben-region, who experience the transports as infringement of their own live. Due to the Castor-transports their freedom decreases (the atomic state): they are not allowed to move freely, they are deprived of many of their citizen’s rights and often shocked by the harsh interventions of the police. This results in people not believing in democracy. A woman who is professionally involved in organizing the transports took the microphone and said that she on her turn was shocked by the fierceness of the actions of the police and the protestors. Then, an exchange of experiences started: and in a moment of real dialogue the huge distrust in each other was less for a while.

This distrust became obvious again in the closing discussions on criteria for storage of nuclear waste. Georg Arens of the Ministry of Environment noted that it is not really about getting evidence that nuclear waste has to be stored safely for a million of years, it is more about an expectation. About the requirement that data on the nuclear waste has to be kept for 500 years, he said: “How to organize that is not yet drawn up, we have to investigate this further.” This raised questions from the public: Isn’t it strange that after 30 years of research in Gorleben, still no clear criteria to measure the suitability of the site have been established. Arens responded by stating that the discussion has to be about the criteria (1 million years, 500 years records of waste available, etc) published in a July 2008 report. The report “Safety demands for final disposal of heat-producing nuclear waste” is labeled as ‘Entwurf’ (‘concept’) .

I left the conference with the words “Fortsetzung folgt” (‘to be continued’) in my mind and the sentence of one of the lecturers: “Although it is about storage for one million years, it would be nice if the criteria were available sooner.”

Source and contact:
Herman Damveld
Centaurstraat 10
NL-9742 PP Groningen
Tel: +31 50 312 5612
Email: hdamveld(at)xs4all.nl


On November 8, more than 16 000 people demonstrated against the Castor transport in Gorleben, marching through the town and eventually settling just outside of it, near to the gates of the "Zwischenlager" - the temporary nuclear waste disposal site. The protesters were accompanied by at least 400 tractors - a powerful testament to the sense of solidarity that exists around the issue of nuclear power and nuclear waste in this region. The days after the protesters succeeded in several blockades. Transport of the waste from La Hague (France) by train to Danneberg and then by lorry to Gorleben, was delayed 20 hours due to blockades. It was the largest anti-nuclear protest in Germany since 2001. The phase out of nuclear power will become one of the most important issues in the general elections next year.

Bearbeitet am: 12.11.2008/ad

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