Revenge decision to site German nuclear dump

08 august 2009

(by Diet Simon)

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.

So claims a retired geology professor involved in the 1970s search for a salt deposit to be made a nuclear dump.

Gerd Lüttig told the ddp news agency that’s how Gorleben came to be chosen in 1977 by the 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.

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 kilometres apart as the crow flies, by road Morsleben is 120 kms south of Gorleben. Both villages were close to the border that separated the two Germanies at time when the communist regime still killed people trying to escape across what was regarded as the world’s deadliest border.

Lüttig says from talks with East German geologists the West German geologists and Albrecht’s state government knew 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.

Lüttig said he and his team had found Gorleben “barely suitable” and only named it “because it’s a relatively large salt deposit.”

Exploratory mining of it began in 1979, interrupted in 2000 because of geological concerns. The moratorium expires in October 2010 at the latest.

The ddp interviewer put it to Lüttig that it was thought at the time that the thin population of the Gorleben area was one criterion for its selection.

Lüttig replied: “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, aged 83, regards Gorleben as a suitable dumping site and argues that salt is the best option. He has also advised the government of Sweden, where he investigated granite.

Gorleben lies about 100 kms from Hamburg, Germany’s second largest city (1.7 million people) and 135 kms from Hanover, its 11th biggest (516,000); Morsleben is 170 kms from Hamburg, 100 kms from Hanover.

Greenpeace Germany has just revealed a 1996 letter in which Angela Merkel, then environment minister, now German chancellor (prime minister), ordered another five years of operation permission to Morsleben although “she knew that it isn’t safe to store nuclear waste in salt”.

Greenpeace took the issue to court, which ordered dumping stopped in Morsleben on 25 September 1998.

More than half of the waste in the Morsleben former potash and rock salt mine came from West German power stations. After it was closed, the ceiling collapsed in one of the chambers.

Soon after exploration of Gorleben began it was found to have insufficient rock cover and to be in contact with a ground water aquifer.

Gorleben was to be modelled on another former potash mine holding nuclear waste and now taking in 12 cubic metres of brine daily, Asse II near Braunschweig. Its illegal operations are now under investigation by a Lower Saxony parliamentary panel.

Merkel and her Christian Democrat conservatives insist on using Gorleben as the final nuclear waste repository and if they win the national election on 27 September intend to scrap the plan to abandon nuclear power altogether by 2020. Seventeen nukes are in operation in Germany.

Polls at the moment show the Christian Democrats romping home, while the Social Democrats, now in fractious coalition with them, are scoring just over 23%.

No site has been found anywhere in the world considered safe to store highly radioactive waste, which remains dangerous for millions of years.

Bearbeitet am: 08.08.2009/ad

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