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Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(September 16 2005) The German nuclear safety ministry has admitted that there is not enough cover over a salt dome for it to be considered safe for use as a waste dump.

(634.5717) Diet Simon - An exploratory mine has been driven into the salt deposit at Gorleben, a village in northern Germany, to test whether it could safely hold highly radioactive waste in the long term. The trials were suspended years ago because of scientists' safety concerns, but the Conservative Party - expected to win power in the September 18 German general election - have brushed those concerns aside and insist on Gorleben being made the national dump.

The environment and reactor safety ministry in Berlin, controlled by The Greens, has written to the local county's committee for nuclear installations, civil and disaster protection stating that there is no "dense overburden" (overburden refers to the material - earth/rocks - covering the salt) on the salt deposit that could act as a second geological barrier for long-term protection against the possible release into the environment of highly radioactive atomic waste from a "final repository".

According to the communication from the ministry, which came to public notice in an open session of the committee of the county of Lüchow-Dannenberg on July 7, "The seal rock does indeed have a small barrier effect".

The local opponents of the dump argue in a media release that the ministry thereby confirms the findings of sample drillings done in 1983 that were already then undisputed among scientists - that the structure of the overburden cannot fulfil a barrier function.

Only the Gorleben salt dome itself has "large, undisturbed salt sections that could fulfil the barrier function demanded", said the ministry citing the drill findings.

The opponents also point out that there has been no examination of whether salt could be at all a suitable repository for nuclear waste. The ministry said such tests, though requested, were not carried out because of cost considerations.

The present government has launched a search for alternative waste sites, but has not ruled Gorleben out. Activists allege that the Red-Green coalition has not been serious about the search and that the Gorleben mine and other underground dumps should have been filled in long ago.

Francis Althoff, spokesperson for the Bürgerinitiative Umweltschutz Lüchow-Dannenberg (citizens initiative for environmental protection) said, "the senseless waste of money for the 'exploration' of the Gorleben salt dome, which has already devoured 1.5 billion Euros (US$1.8 billion), has to be stopped immediately and permanently."

Scientific evidence has for decades proven that Gorleben is not suitable to keep people and the environment safe from the highly radioactive waste. The working group set up to examine possible sites concluded that 50,000 generations would be in danger from irradiation should the plan proceed.

"We won't put up with the radiating waste simply being scratched into the salt and forgotten about," says Althoff. He criticises opposition leader Angela Merkel (Conservative) for recruiting Siemens CEO, Heinrich von Pierer - whom he lambastes as "a nuclear fanatic who wants to keep flawed nuclear power stations running for another 60 years" - to her team of top advisers.

"The population, a majority of whom reject the use of atomic energy, should wake up fast and think hard about how to vote.

"Worldwide there is no safe 'final repository', no real 'disposal' of atomic waste is possible.

"The Gorleben soap bubble has burst at last. The only consequence can be to stop the further production of waste by shutting down nuclear plants."

Two Hanover-based geologists and former members of the working party for investigating possible sites, Jürgen Kreusch and Detlef Appel, addressed a public meeting in Dannenberg, near Gorleben, on September 6.

Kreusch, a specialist in hydrogeology, has written: "Since the overburden is practically useless as an effective barrier against the diffusion of long-life radio nuclides, the salt dome alone would have to carry the entire long-term 'safety burden'. That is not acceptable for a final repository. The lacking insulation capability of the overburden cannot be compensated for by the salt dome."

A 2003 paper by the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, "The Distribution of Fresh Water and Saline Water in the Cover Rock above the Gorleben Salt Dome", states: "Nuclide transport in the salt water can be predicted on the basis of the present fresh water/salt water distribution."

Sources: (in German only)

Francis Althoff at Bürgernintiative Umweltschutz, Lüchow-Dannenberg e.V., Drawehner Str. 3, 29439 Lüchow, Germany
Tel.: +49 5843 986789

During a routine measurement of incoming waste containers at the Gorleben interim storage facility on September 14, five out of eight containers from the Kruemmel nuclear power plant showed contamination above the allowed level by up to a factor of five. The permissible level for transportation is 4 Bq p/cm2. These so-called Mosaik-waste containers are used for the storage of radioactive building material from the Kruemmel reactor-core. According to the regulatory authorities, the safety of personnel and the public was not in danger because the Mosaik container was inside a transport container. Nevertheless, all such transports from Kruemmel to Gorleben have been indefinitely cancelled.
Environmental Ministry Lower-Saxony press release, September 15, 2005