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The political "contents" of a Castor

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(February 16, 2001) High-level radioactive waste is once more set to travel across Europe in Castor containers. These large metal flasks also carry political baggage with them, which is no less explosive than the radioactive waste they contain. Furthermore, they carry high symbolic value in the dispute over nuclear power in Germany. The following contribution describes the political "contents" of a Castor.

(543.5247) Jochen Stay - Shortly before the last Castor transport to Ahaus in March 1998, the nuclear industry placed brightly-colored advertisements in all the major German newspapers. The advertisements stated "Strictly speaking, Castor is just another word for safety", or "Strictly speaking, Castor is just another word for democracy", or else "Strictly speaking, Castor is just another word for confidence".

It soon turned out that quite the opposite of these statements was true, as weeks of media attention were devoted to the contamination scandal, which ultimately led to a temporary ban of all Castor transports. Dozens of Castor containers had traveled across Europe with contamination levels way above the limits for around a decade. The industry and the authorities were aware of this all the time but kept quiet about the problem.

Now the transport ban is coming to an end, but it is still questionable whether a Castor is safer now just because the current Environment Minister carries a Green Party membership card. This time, the anti-nuclear movement could (if enough cash were available) place advertisements stating: "Strictly speaking, Castor is just another word for consensus-nonsense", or "Strictly speaking, Castor is just another word for continuation of the nuclear industry", or else "Strictly speaking, Castor is just another word for hushing up nuclear waste incidents". And of course, Castor is another word for resistance. After all, no single word motivates anti-nuclear activists more than the name of this nuclear waste container. The resistance to the Castor transports to Gorleben in 1995, 1996 and 1997 and to Ahaus in 1998 was a success story for the movement. That Angela Merkel as Federal Environment Minister was forced to call a halt to all the transports because of the contamination scandal can be attributed to the fact that the State was close to the limits of its abilities in keeping the transports going.

Now for the first time a Red-Green federal government is testing these limits. Between 27 and 29 March, a train carrying six Castors from the French reprocessing plant at La Hague is due to travel through Germany towards Gorleben. For three years transports have been halted; now the Castor alarm is sounding once more. In these three years, the anti-nuclear movement has had its ups and downs. On the one hand, there was the possibility that delays in the resumption of transports could bring a whole row of plants to the point of being suffocated by their own nuclear waste. On the other hand, the long period without transports could have led to the nuclear debate being kept out of the media spotlight. After all, the great strength of the movement, to bring about massive political pressure during the Castor transports, is also its great weakness if no transports take place. Other focal points of similar intensity have so far not been found. Now of course this question will return to the background, because the transports are starting again... The movement now faces a double challenge. On the one hand, there is the challenge to mobilize and prepare good actions; on the other hand, to carry on the political struggle against the indescribable arguments of the federal government and its constituent parties. Each Castor therefore also has political "contents." The same is true of many cancelled transports...


It was recently revealed that four transports of nuclear waste from Germany to France took place in the summer of 2000. These transports consisted largely of scrap from MOX production at Hanau, and therefore were not covered by the ban on transport of spent fuel from Germany to France. However, the way in which the transports were kept secret stands in contrast to the French nuclear industry's claim of a new policy of "openness".

There is also the problem of reprocessing the waste. The coalition of the Greens and the Socialist Party agreed that no more reprocessing contracts would be signed. The waste is currently stored at La Hague, with no plans yet for reprocessing.
Le Monde, 14 February 2001

Necharwestheim-Ahaus: getting to the root of the nuclear waste problem
Originally, March was to see two Castor transports. Apart from the Gorleben transport, there was to be a nuclear waste train from Neckarwestheim NPP to the interim waste storage site at Ahaus. This transport was delayed indefinitely at the end of January, after the Federal Environment Minister Trittin made a directive to the state of Baden-Württemberg that the waste, which was already loaded into Castors at the NPP site, was to be considered "fictitious" (as quoted by the NPP operator), in the sense that it would not be counted when calculating whether the total quantity of radioactive materials on site had reached the limit specified in the site license. The public excitement aroused by this directive diverted attention from the granting of a permit by the same department for three waste transports from Neckarwestheim to the British reprocessing plant at Sellafield at almost the same time. There is also an ongoing argument between the state governments of Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia about whether it would be better to implement the proposed on-site interim storage as soon as possible instead of transporting the waste to Ahaus. The resistance to transports was even used as an argument to push through plans for on-site storage. It is not yet clear if the Federal Nuclear Safety Authority will give a permit at the end of February (as expected) for on-site storage of 24 Castors at Neckarwestheim. Whether the NPP operator can avoid the need for transports to Ahaus is still not clear. However, the way the state and federal governments played things, it seemed that Trittin's department was "behaving responsibly", which produced a great public sense of relief. The great battle predicted by the Ministry of the Interior, the BVS, the police trade union and the media was avoided, and the Green minister "stopped" the Castors.

But at what price? The storage for high-level waste in Block 2 of the Neckarwestheim NPP is full, so that a fuel change during the forthcoming maintenance period from 1 April would not be possible. This could mean the end of the power station. Because the government and operators agreed in the nuclear consensus that Neckarwestheim could run for a further 20 years, this would be a serious setback for the nuclear industry. It would also break another clause in the agreement specifying that no reactor should be taken off the grid because of waste disposal problems. Interim storage sites are planned in many locations. Until they are ready, the Castors are to remain on site at the NPPs, without proper control and despite the unsolved problems concerning the thickness of the lids.

Green Party action ban
On 22 January, the party council of the German Green Party asked its members not to undertake actions against a planned nuclear waste transport from the reprocessing plant in La Hague, France, to the German interim storage in Gorleben, Germany. They said that actions against the transport of high level waste would undermine the German Consensus Agreement on a nuclear phaseout. Although the Greens want to minimize the amount of nuclear transports, the party council considers the return of German origin waste to Gorleben as necessary. Actions like blockades would, they say, endanger the phaseout process and could lead to a standstill. As a press release said: "That applies to a blockade of the realization of interim [on-site] storages [...] but for sure for the blockade of necessary transports. Both will not result in shorter lifetimes, but postpones the time of closing nuclear installations."
(Press release Green Party, 22 January 2001)

"Fictitious" storage (as in Trittin's directive), on-site storage and transports to Ahaus offer no solution to the problem of radioactive waste for future generations, even though in the current debate they are portrayed as a set of alternatives we must choose between. All these measures serve only to solve the lack of storage capacity so that the nuclear waste mountain can keep growing. They do not deal with the current waste, which "must go somewhere", but instead create space for waste that is yet to be produced. The measures are designed to ensure that the plants can continue to run for decades to come, without offering the slightest idea of how to deal responsibly with their radioactive inheritance. The task of the anti-nuclear movement is to shift the debate. The key question is not transport versus interim storage; it is whether the plants should keep going or be shut down.

La Hague - Gorleben: Stop reprocessing!
Likewise, for the transport from La Hague to Gorleben it is not enough to say "Wir stellen uns quer!" (We will block it). The movement must put forward more thorough arguments. Jürgen Trittin made it clear in February 1999 during a visit to Dannenberg what we should expect of him: The Minister will invoke "national responsibility" and pledge to return "German" waste to Germany. Naturally, the local movement supports the demands of anti-nuclear residents around La Hague that the waste belonging to the international energy businesses RWE, E-ON, EnBW and HEW be taken away from Normandy as soon as possible. Equally, Wendland residents have the right to refuse to accept the waste. After all, it is not "their" waste. Which community, then, does have responsibility for the waste?

Which borders count and which not? Can the residents of Lüchow-Dannenberg demand from the Environment Minister that the South Germans should take "their" waste back?
Fortunately it is not so difficult for us to realize that the public statements of Trittin and the Federal Government about "national responsibility" are just hollow rhetoric. First they insist that it is immoral to leave "German" waste in France and then they allow 500 more spent fuel transports to be sent to La Hague in the next 5 years. So much for "national responsibility!"

Why the German-French waste question is the one that counts was made clear by the French Premier Lionel Jospin last October. He quite simply refused to allow any more waste transports to France until the first six Castors of reprocessed waste were sent to the Wendland. The Gorleben transport plays a central role in this package deal. This "six-pack" is just the start. Enough waste for over 100 transports is waiting in La Hague. According to the transport plan of the Nuclear Service Company (GNS), two to three Castor trains per year are to travel from France to Germany.

If this plan grinds to a halt on the first transport because (as the Lower Saxony Environment Minister Bartling has already said) the police do not have the resources this year for the major operation needed to deal with the resistance, then the transports to La Hague will possibly get postponed too.

The police and the border guards will soon have another problem to deal with. From September their holiday leave will be cancelled because of the introduction of Euro coins and banknotes at the end of the year. So many money transports will be needed that, according to the Association of German Banks, major operations like the Castor transports will not be possible. Does Lionel Jospin know this? At the moment, it seems that the arrival of the six containers in Gorleben will be enough to open the gates of La Hague for more German waste. The Environment Ministry of Hessen has already announced that at the end of March / beginning of April (i.e. more or less the same time as the Gorleben transport) the first container from Biblis NPP will be sent to La Hague. This means that the future operation of Stade, Biblis and Philippsburg is also connected to the success or failure of the transport to Gorleben. Because the operators to these plants are pushing for resumption of regular waste transports to La Hague, the on-site spent fuel storage areas are full and additional on-site interim storage has not been implemented.

The package deal with Paris has another fortunate effect: French anti-nuclear activists are now for the first time extensively taking part in protests against the transports to Gorleben. To be sure, they are demanding that the waste leave La Hague. Since, however, it is quite obvious that this transport merely serves to open the gates of La Hague to a far larger quantity of German waste, they have good grounds to oppose it. The conclusion is that we must connect our resistance to Castor transports to Gorleben to a demand for an immediate end to reprocessing. The European "nuclear waste tourism" must come to an end. Best of all, incidentally, by closing down nuclear power plants...

[This article was translated by WISE Amsterdam from the article in graswurzelrevolution, February 2001]

Source and contact: Jochen Stay, Tolstefanz, Jeetzel Nr. 41, 29439 Jeetzel/Wendland, Germany.
Tel: +49 5841 4521,