Brine also flowing into Gorleben salt mine

from March 8th 2009

by Diet Simon

Brine is seeping into the salt mine in Gorleben that is the most likely place to become Germany's final nuclear waste repository despite fierce public opposition.

Flooding with brine is threatening to collapse another former potash mine in the wider area, Asse II in Wolfenbüttel, which already holds waste and was supposed to be the model for Gorleben.

The environment committee of the Lower Saxony state parliament is demanding precise information about the possible dangerousness of the inflows in Gorleben, where a mine has been dug in salt specifically to test the suitability as a repository.

A daily newspaper reports that both the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) and the Lower Saxony environment ministry confirm the brine seepage. It's said to be "caused naturally".

Although the Gorleben mine was always described as dry, at least 160,000 litres of brine had flowed in, said Stefan Wenzel, chairman of the environment committee and head The Greens parliamentary group.

He said in the case of Asse, the brine inflows were "the beginning of the end", adding that "we must learn from the mistakes made in Asse." The parallels between the two salt deposits now had to be named and worked through.

"They trivialised the danger of Asse for years, now the mine is collapsing on itself," said Wenzel. "After all, Asse was a prototype for Gorleben."

The civic action group that has fought the Gorleben dumping plans for 31 years, Bürgerinitiative Umweltschutz Lüchow-Dannenberg, says as one shaft of the salt pit was dug, there had been "permanent break-ins of water".

The BfS authority says the fluids in Gorleben are not coming in from outside but are so-called formation waters, remnants of an ocean formed 240 million years ago. "There is no contact to the rock cover," a spokesman told the Weserkurier newspaper.

It's now been revealed that Asse II served as a pilot project for Gorleben, something governments and authorities have been denying. This emerges from documents released by the federal environment ministry in response to pressure from the Greens MP, Sylvia Kotting-Uhl. The Greens suspect that the Asse mine was planned from the beginning to be a final repository for nuclear waste.

In public it was only ever talked about as an experimental facility. Moreover, dumping of waste there is said to have been unusually cheap for its producers.

"From the beginning Asse was mainly for cheap disposal of nuclear waste," says Sigmar Gabriel, environment minister of the German government, a social democrat. "From all commercial atomic power stations in Germany waste was carted to Asse for laughable prices.

A local newspaper reported that for a long time power companies and other dumpers paid nothing to dump radioactive drums in Asse II. Data of the federal environment ministry show that altogether just 16.5 million Deutschmarks was paid. From 1967 to 1975 no fees were charged for storing radioactive wastes in Asse II, by which half the drums in it now had been delivered.

Every day 12 cubic metres of brine are entering Asse II.

Up until the 1980s Asse II was cited by the nuclear power industry as the necessary proof that it had a waste storage facility, although the old mine was always declared as "experimental". Sylvia Kotting-Uhl says this is shown by permits issued under atomic law. The documents also show that internally Asse II was treated as a "pilot plant for Gorleben".

The Gorleben salt dome has been explored since the late 1970s for its suitability as final storage for highly radioactive waste, mostly from power stations. The work was stopped in 2000 for a ten-year moratorium.

The energy industry, conservative (CDU/CSU) and liberal (FDP) parties are lobbying hard for the exploration to resume, Social Democrats and Greens demand that other locations be looked at as well.

An opinion poll of 1,166 people has found 86% wanting nuclear power stations switched off immediately, 7% saying it will take a while yet before that happens and 7% not wanting it.

Bearbeitet am: 09.03.2009/ad


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