On September 5, some 50,000 people marched in the German capital Berlin, in a demonstration against nuclear energy. It was the largest anti-nuclear demonstration in Germany since 1986, when in the months after Chernobyl hundred-thousands of people took the streets. The demonstration was meant as a warning to politicians that anti-nuclear sentiment is still strong and people will engage against any attempt to flaw the phase-out of nuclear power in Germany after the general elections on September 27.
The protest was initiated by local groups from the Wendland, the region in Germany where Gorleben is situated. Gorleben was designated in the 1970's to be location where the countries nuclear waste will be disposed of in salt mines.
Meanwhile, more and more becomes known over the last few months about how Gorleben was selected.
Gerd Luettig, a retired geology professor involved in the 1970s search for a salt deposit to be made a nuclear dump, claimed that a West German provincial leader placed a nuclear waste dump near the border with communist East Germany out of revenge for the East Germans doing the same on their side of the border. In early August 2009, Luettig told ddp news agency that is how Gorleben came to be chosen in 1977 by the then Conservative premier of Lower Saxony state, Ernst Albrecht. Out of 100 salt deposits investigated, all of them in northern Germany, Gorleben was in the final shortlist of eight. The Federal government identified three promising sites, all in Lower Saxony. Gorleben was not among them. After opposition from state officials of Lower Saxony, the federal government let them choose its own site.
Lüttig says Albrecht wanted a location near the border because the East Germans "got us into hot water with their final repository at Morsleben". Gorleben and Morsleben are about 95 kilometers apart. Both villages were close to the border that separated the two Germanies.
Lüttig says West German geologists and Albrecht's state government knew from talks with East German geologists, that the Morsleben former salt mine "was technically defective" and water was flowing into it. "We always feared - and that enraged Mr Albrecht - that one day Morsleben would be flooded and radioactively polluted water could flow towards Helmstedt", then the crossover point at the border, "and despoil a whole landscape there".
Thereupon the premier had declared, "then we'll do the same", Lüttig says. "In further talks Albrecht gathered arguments. He said the county was after all thinly populated and its council had asked him to do something there and that it would benefit the county. Albrecht focussed on that more and more." Lüttig said he and his team had found Gorleben "barely suitable" and only named it "because it's a relatively large salt deposit."
Later in August, it emerged that the former Federal government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl had brushed over scientific objections to the project in the 1980s. A report by the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper claimed that the Kohl government had "sugarcoated" an experts' report saying that the underground Gorleben Salt Dome in Lower Saxony was not in fact suitable for long-term storage of dangerous nuclear waste. The newspaper report said that in 1983 the Kohl cabinet put pressure on the scientists advising the government on the options for nuclear-waste storage to approve the Gorleben site, and had then paraphrased their report making it appear more positive, apparently in an effort to save money. The scientific objections to the Gorleben site centred on the concern that the sediment around the salt-cave is not strong enough to prevent the escape of radiation.
One day after the revelations, on August 26, 2009, Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that the salt dome Gorleben "is dead." Gabriel said: "Under those circumstances, research (at Gorleben) can't be continued." Germany's Federal Office for Radiation Protection backed the minister. A spokesman of the office told the Frankfurter Rundschau that the start of the Gorleben project “has many birth defects that are not compatible with today's open and transparent policies and is therefore controversial”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives Christian-Democrats want to continue pursuing Gorleben, while the Social Democrats are in favor of looking for additional, potentially more promising locations. The Conservatives dislike that plan because most of the alternative candidates are located in states dominated by party colleagues
Despite some 1.5 billion euros (US$ 2 billion) having been spent on research there since 1979 the site has however never become operational for long-term waste storage. Because of the massive public protests, the German government in 2000 stopped researching Gorleben, but that moratorium expires in October 2010 at the latest.
In the September 27, 2009, general elections the phase-out of nuclear power is an important issue. A continuation of the ruling yellow-red government (Christian-Democrats and Social Democrats) is likely to hold on to the planned phase-out (which will lead to the closure of 7 nuclear reactors in the next 3 years.) A pro-nuclear yellow-black coalition (Christian-Democrats and Liberals, favored by chancellor Merkel), was leading in the polls, but over the last few weeks the lead disappeared, and the outcome is very much unsure. A yellow-black coalition will most likely suspend the phase-out but is not in favor of new build.
On the website:
http://www.ausgestrahlt.de/aktionen/anti-atom-demo-59/berichte.html you can find many press reviews of the September 5 demonstration. Scroll down to find international media.
Sources: www.Indymedia.de, 8 August 2009 / EarthTimes, 25 August 2009 / UPI, 26 August 2009
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More plutonium in Asse II research mine. There is more than twice the amount of plutonium stored at the Asse waste dump in Germany than previously estimated. Ministers said there was 28 kilograms of plutonium in the Asse II dump, not the nine kilograms previously estimated by operators Helmholtz. The Federal Office for Radiation Protection took over operation of the facility earlier this year after unauthorised material was found there. Low- and intermediate level nuclear waste was deposited at the Asse Research mine in the 60s and 70s for research purposes. These experiments have been terminated, but the waste remains in the pit. Brine influx into the allegedly stable and dry repository was known even when the deposition began.
Bloomberg, 29 August 2009 / Nuclear Heritage Information leaflet