Francis Althoff
The Situation of Nuclear Waste in Germany

At the moment, there are 17 nuclear power plants in operation in Germany daily producing high-risk nuclear waste in addition to the permanent risks of the so-called standard operation of the plants. German legislation includes a provision by way of the Atomic Energy Law to allow the operation of power plants only under the condition of proving the safe disposal of the waste. But no safety evidence can be provided for the safe depositing of the highly-active waste. Nevertheless, the nuclear power plants continue to be in operation, whereas every hot dog stand would have to shut down in case of a missing evidence for the disposal of the used fat.

Various different legal tricks are used to evade the provisions of the Atomic Energy Law with respect to the subject of a final depository in order to ensure an undisturbed continuation of the operation of the nuclear power plants. Thus, the Atomic Energy Law is evaded by way of alleging that it would be sufficient to follow the given procedures of Mining Law. In contrast to the Atomic Energy Law, Mining Law does not offer any options for suits from the side of the public thus leaving the only alternative to demonstrate on the streets raising public attention to the fact of restricting rights. In addition, Atomic Energy Law has been changed several times in the area of waster disposal. This way, it is sufficient at the moment to build simple intermediate storage halls to guarantee the continued operation of nuclear power plants. At the moment, such intermediate storage buildings have an approval for the storage of nuclear waste for 40 years. The wording of the law actually defines this simple and dangerous storage of nuclear waste as “Direct Final Repository”. This term is absolutely absurd unless interpreting right from the beginning that these intermediate storage halls are already final repositories.

Just some remarks with respect to the time dimensions:
Nuclear waste has been produced for more than 60 years now, namely since the first nuclear bomb tests. Thus, for more three generations now nobody in the world knows how to safely deposit the high-risk waste. The Working Team “Search for a Final Repository” of the former German government has expressly pointed out in its report in 2002 that the highly-active nuclear waste must be stored for at least 1 million years guaranteeing the prevention of any penetrations into the biosphere. That means that 50,000 generations will be involved in the dangers of the today’s use of atomic energy. You could say: if a Neanderthal had started up the nuclear fire, it would still burn today without any means of extinguishing.

One million years is a period of time surpassing human imaginations. Just think of all kinds of unforeseen events such as climatic changes, earthquakes, floods, shifting of continental plates, to name only some. It is a further question whether it is at all possible to warn future generations with different languages and cultures of nuclear waste deposits hazardous to life. What would have happened in view of the spirit of exploration in the past if the Egyptian pyramids would have been built on top of highly-active nuclear waste?

But back to Germany. There are four locations for nuclear waste in Germany. The Asse II mine close to Wolfenbüttel, Morsleben close to Helmstedt, the Konrad mine close to Salzgitter and Gorleben.

The mines of Asse and Morsleben are examples for the actual storage of nuclear waste under catastrophic conditions. Permission for operation has been granted to the Konrad mine. Gorleben is declared as an exploration mine for a final repository. Asse, Morsleben and Gorleben are salt deposits; Konrad is a firmer iron ore mine.


More than 40 years ago, on April 4, 1967, the storage of nuclear waste began in the Asse II mine. Between 1967 and 1978, 125,000 drums with low-active nuclear waste and 1,300 drums with medium-active waste from nuclear power plants and from the research plant of Karlsruhe have been stored in the former salt mine Asse II at Remlingen, district of Wolfenbüttel. The storage had been approved pursuant to Mining Law and had been declared as “a test for a non-retrievable final repository”. The storage had always been described as “absolutely safe”, although all of the neighbouring mines had already been flooded for decades.

Since 1988, the GSF (the responsible Federal Authority) noted a permanent lye ingression from the ancillary and covering rock formation, where the origin is unknown until today. For this reason, the GSF will only be able to guarantee the safety of the mine until 2014. If some of the chambers or the complete mine will break in, the radio-active inventory of the drums (inter alia 12.5 kg plutonium) may penetrate into the ground water within a short period of time.

The Ministry for Environmental Protection of the State of Lower Saxony will shut Asse II as soon as possible hoping to solve the problem this way. We - on the other hand - want to clarify the question whether the application for closure will fulfil the requirements of an examination under Atomic Energy Law or whether the nuclear waste will have to be removed again.

The procedure to shut down the mine proposed by the operating company, the GSF, provides for a filling-up of the atomic waste storage facility of Asse II with waste salt and to fill the remaining pore space with a liquid. This liquid will completely decompose the containers for nuclear waste within a period of time of 10 to 100 years so that the radio-nuclides will dissolve. The liquid, which became radio-active this way, will be forced out of the mine structure through the rock pressure into the lower salt water layers. These layers extend from Magdeburg to Hildesheim, from the edge of the Harz Mountains to Lüneburg. There are many salt water springs also in the region around Asse, which may transport the contaminated salt water of the nuclear waste drums to the surface and thus into the biosphere. The question is: how fast and how much of the radio-active material will find its way into the biosphere? The answer to this question is contained in the Long-Term Safety Evidence still kept as confidential filed by the GSF with the State Office for Mining, Energy and Geology at Clausthal-Zellerfeld and which had been assessed as full of missing data and incomplete during the receipt check in the middle of March. Or should we rather say that it should have been contained therein?

In July 2007, Stefan Wenzel, Chairman of the Parliamentary Group of Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, filed an action with the Attorney General at Brunswick for reasons of the urgent suspicion of operating a plant, in which nuclear fuels are used, namely without the required permission (§ 329 Criminal Code) or for reasons of the handling of radio-active material in the former salt mine without the required permission.


The central final repository for radio-active nuclear waste of the former GDR is located at Morsleben in the former border region between the GDR and the FRG close to Helmstedt. The nuclear facility has been taken over by the Federal Government in 1990. In the meantime, the highest percentage of radio-active waste is waste from West German nuclear power plants.

Morsleben is a former potassium and mineral salt mine. In 1969, Morsleben has been designated for the storage of nuclear waste in the GDR. Altogether 36,753 cubic metres of low- and medium-active waste is stored at Morsleben. Out of this volume, 14,432 cubic metres has been stored from 1971 until 1991 and roughly 22,320 cubic metres between 1994 and 1998.

Liquid radio-active waste has been sprayed onto a layer of lignite filter ashes assuming that this mixture would solidify. This assumption has not been fulfilled and large volumes of radio-active liquids have penetrated into the lower layers of the mine. At a later stage, a different procedure has been tested but this has also been stopped shortly after the take-over of the final repository through the Federal Government. Solid radio-active waste has partially been dropped as bulk or in drums into the cavities of the mine or drums have been stacked on top of each other. Many drums have already been damaged during the dropping. Some radiation sources have been sunk into holes drilled into the mine.

As early as 1969, the risk of caving-in “Danger of Stability of Mine Sections” has been known for Morsleben. Thus, this knowledge had already been present before the first permission for the operation of Morsleben. Also water inflows are a well-known fact for this site for years. For many decades now, fife inflow locations are well-documented. One of them has a proven connection to the capping rock. A large number of further inflows, which had been blanketed, have been revealed by Greenpeace in the 90ies.

Basic geological disadvantages thus have a detrimental impact on the safety of the final repository: the salt mine is penetrated by porous, such as main anhydrite, easily water-soluble rock layers, such as potassium stratum. This increases the risk of penetrating water, because it is easy for the water to penetrate and also the stability of the mine is at hazard. The various different danger factors such as a lack of stability, water inflows and movement in the rock will influence each other and will act as reinforcing parameters.

The high degree of complexity of the final repository - comparable with a Swiss cheese with holes - will make it difficult to carry out safety assessments. Not all of the cavities are completely known. Especially during the period of the turn of the century from the 19th to the 20th century, an actually “wild” mining took place with a very low degree of documentation. Two acutely dangerous situations happened during the past years requiring immediate defence measures. At the end of 2000, several chambers of the south field of the final repository had to be covered with salt chippings, in order to prevent that parts of the ceiling falling down will swirl up the nuclear waste stored in this location diffusing through the ventilation system. In October 2001, a further danger defence action was carried out aimed at reacting to the threatening collapse in the central section of the final repository. For this purpose, it is planned to feed in more than 630,000 cubic metres of the salt concrete into the final repository.

The Konrad Mine

The Konrad mine is a shut-down iron ore mine in the middle of the industrial heart of the steel town of Salzgitter. It is planned to store 303,000 cubic meters of solid or solidified radio-active waste “with a negligible heat development” into this mine between 2013 and 2080. This waste will be composed of plutonium-containing waste from reprocessing, operating waste from energy production and nuclear research. Waste from medicine - something often talked about - only stands for 2 % of the waste. Anyway, it will also be allowed that the overall volume of waste of 303,000 cubic metres will altogether contain some 865 kg plutonium.

There are roughly 20,000 jobs in industry and high-quality farmland in close vicinity of Konrad. Between 1965 and 1976, iron ore had been mined between 1000 m and 1300 m. Between 1976 and 1982, Konrad had been examined for suitability as a final repository for low-active waste and large components from the shut-down of nuclear power plants. The public works planning procedures extended from 1982 to 2002. In 1985, the planning application has been generally extended. The valid criterion for the final storage shall not be the dose rate (“low-active” and “medium-active”) but the heat. The surrounding host rock shall not be heated up by more than 3 degrees. This way, it is possible to store 95 % of the volume of radio-active waste in the Federal Republic of Germany in the Konrad mine. In 1991, the Federal Government enforces by way of an official rule the public presentation of the planning documentation. Altogether 289,387 objections are filed from all over Germany which are brought to Hanover by way of a tractor convoy to be handed over to the then Minister for Environmental Protection, Monika Griefahn. The public hearing lasts for 75 days taking place between September 1992 and March 1993. Just before the beginning, more than 7,000 people demonstrate against the Konrad mine. 2000: The Federal Government of Germany and the nuclear industry conclude a nuclear agreement on the approval of Konrad. On May 22, 2002, the State of Lower Saxony approves the plan. Mr. Jüttner (SPD), Minister for Environmental Protection in Lower Saxony and Trittin (Green party), Federal Minister for Environmental Protection blame each other for the result. Between June 2002 and April 2007, a farmer family and three municipalities file an action before the Higher Administrative Court at Lüneburg, afterwards before the Federal Administrative Court at Karlsruhe, but in vain. The farmer Traube and the City of Salzgitter file a constitutional complaint which has no postponing effect, however. Now EURO 900 million shall be assigned in the Federal budget until 2009 to “adapt the approved plan to the changed realities”. Between 2009 and 2013, the mine shall be completely reconstructed and a final repository shall be set up. Form that date onwards until 2080 nuclear waste shall be stored in that mine.
The calculation of the long-term safety is mainly based on assumptions and not on data actually gathered. In the meantime, such calculations are several decades old, not at all state of the art anymore and severely doubted. The approval never took into account the dangers of the operation of the final repository such as the large number of daily transports in the heavily congested industrial area of Salzgitter. In case of any serious catastrophes, the radio-active load may become so high within a specific region that it would be impossible to stay there for a longer period of time. Also an EC-wide use cannot be excluded anymore. Since foreign transporting companies could not be checked and since a detailed receipt control is not planned for Konrad, this may have devastating consequences.

We demand that the concept of a “maintenance-free”, non-retrievable final repository should be generally re-assessed again. After the new assessment of the final repository concept, the maximum possible solution for the existing waste and the waste to be produced should be aimed for. This means a site search procedure within the framework of an exclusively national solution without any preliminary decisions for Konrad or Gorleben. But - above all - we demand to stop the operation of all nuclear plants.


There are two above-ground intermediate storage facilities for radio-active nuclear waste, a conditioning plant and a reconnaissance mine for a final repository located close to the Lower Saxony village of Gorleben in the district of Lüchow-Dannenberg (Wendland). On February 22, 1977 Gorleben has been named as the site for a “Nuclear Disposal Centre”. The construction of processing plant has been prevented through the colourful local resistance against nuclear power in the Wendland. Low- and medium-active nuclear waste has been stored since 1983 and highly-active waste has been stored in so-called CASTOR containers since 1996.
The reconnaissance mine is located in a salt mine extending underneath the Elbe River into the State of Brandenburg in the former GDR.

In 1976, then former Prime Minister of the State of Lower Saxony, Ernst Albrecht (CDU) had decided on Gorleben as the site for a “Nuclear Disposal Centre” for solely political reasons. This is not an assumption but a fact, because 17 years later Prof. Gerd Lüttig, former Vice-President of the Office for Soil Research of the State of Lower Saxony, reported on the details of the designation of Gorleben as the site for the Disposal Centre. He said: Prime Minister Ernst Albrecht had been angry and told Mr. Lüttig “The German Democratic Republic has annoyed us with the final repository of Morsleben, now we will fight back.” Geographic background: Morsleben is located right at the border to the Federal Republic of Germany, Gorleben is merely 2 km away from the former GDR border. At that time, more than 70 percent of the people affected by a potential atomic accident at Gorleben would have been living in the GDR. 

In 1986, the first works start. Shaft 2 has been driven down to 840 m. In 1997, shaft 1 has reached a final depth of 933 m. Horizontal shafts of altogether 25 km are now driven into the salt mine in order to carry out further explorations. The Federal Government calculates total costs of roughly EURO 2.20 billion until the commissioning of the final repository Gorleben.

In 2000, the exploration is stopped through the so-called “Energy Consensus” agreed upon between the Red/Green Federal Government and the power companies. The moratorium is part of the “Backing-out Concept” of the Red/Green Government. But this moratorium is not agreed upon due to the planning faults and the devastating geological findings. It must be feared that Gorleben will still remain the favourite solution even in case of a further search for a final repository. The moratorium will last at the maximum until 2010, but may be raised at any time.

The suitability of the Gorleben salt mine, which is designed to serve as a final repository for all kinds of nuclear waste from 2030 onwards, has been disputed by renowned geologists for decades now. In 1987, a shaft nearly broke in, permanent water inflows during the sinking of the shafts have accompanied the construction of the finals repository, which has been pushed forward - camouflaged as a “Reconnaissance Mine” - under Mining Law and thus with the legal exclusion of the public. Only Graf Bernstorff, a decisive fighter against nuclear power, had been able to file an action because of the infringement of his salt rights. In the meantime, the Salinas Salz GmbH has been founded, a serious counter-part regarding the plans for the construction of the final repository.

There are further facilities belong to the Atomic Complex at Gorleben: An intermediate storage facility for low- and medium-active nuclear waste, an intermediate storage facility for highly-active waste and a conditioning plant, which has not been commissioned yet. The intermediate storage facility is known from the transports of the CASTOR containers which are regularly blocked by a determined crowd of people despite a warlike demonstration of police power. Each transport into the intermediate storage facility at Gorleben will render Gorleben more probable as the site for the final repository. Although a moratorium has been issued, the transports are carried out creating unnecessary facts for a final repository at Gorleben.

The protecting covering rock formation is missing on top of the salt mine for more than 7.5 square km. It is full of holes and partially not existing at all. This means that deathly radio-active isotopes will find their way into the biosphere through underground waterways. That is the reason why we talk about a “Nuclear waste toilet flushing upwards”. Nobody would install something like that into the house, or?

It is known that salt reacts when coming into contact with heat-generating radio-active waste. It decomposes into sodium and chlorine.  Chlorine should not be stored at heat sources. Prof. Den Hartog of the Groningen University has found out years ago that it may result in further chemical reactions up to an incalculable chain of explosions in so-called voids. For this reason, the Netherlands have skipped plans for final repositories in salt as early as in the 90ies.

Prof. Dr. Eckhard Grimmel of the Hamburg University, who had carried out investigations of the Gorleben salt mine as a geologist for many years also warns of the mobility of the salt mine in addition to the water-carrying layers and the lack of a geological barrier. The salt mine extends underneath the river Elbe up to the village of Rambow. It collapsed at some points. At these sites, lakes have emerged which are tourist attractions. Since the cap rock is mainly missing as an efficient barrier against the propagation of radionuclides, the salt mine would have the exclusive function as a “Safety Barrier”. Because the containers stored do not work as safety barrier at all, because they are going to corrode through the aggressive medium salt. The Gorleben salt mine is thus unsuitable for the disposal of radio-active waste for a short as well as for a long period of time. Prof. Dr. Eckhard Grimmel has acted as a consultant for the German Parliament since 1980 with respect to the options for the disposal of radio-active waste. In his new book "Cycles of the Earth" (ISBN: 3-8258-8212-8) he warns of a final repository at Gorleben: “It is apparent since 1984” that this salt mine is unsuitable as a final repository”. Grimmel summarizes: “The salt mine is not shielded off from the water-carrying layers by a sufficiently thick and clay layer without gaps. The salt mine is not stable and is still rising. The salt mine has already lost a large part of its substance through the decomposition of salt and is still being further diluted. In addition, it is doubtful whether salt is generally suitable as a medium for the final storage of highly-active nuclear waste. Furthermore, the stability of the salt mine is endangered through uncontrolled reactions of the salt (radiolysis) initiated through the heat input and radiation.

Grimmel recommends converting the building for the intermediate and final storage of waste located at Gorleben into a “Museum Village of Lower Saxony for Faulty Technical Developments” of the 20th Century”. This could show, explain and document the endangering of the biosphere through the so-called “Nuclear Fuel Cycle”. We fully agree to this recommendation. But the intermediate storage building for Castor containers, which is only designed as a weather protection - according to the operating company, would have to be sealed before using it as a museum.

For more than 30 years now, the continuous and creative resistance against nuclear power in the Wendland cannot be reduced to silence. We raise, we are in the way! Colourful, creative and full of fantasy - noisy, penetrating and well-heard by the public. Gorleben and the region of the Wendland are symbols of own initiative and fighting against the ruling conditions and the financial interests of the atomic industry. Because the population does not only resist against the enormous dangers of using atomic energy but also against the resulting gigantic heaps of nuclear waste without any safe way for disposal anywhere in the world. The people also fight for the rights guaranteed by the constitutional law, where the exercise is prevented by using police forces in favour of the capital interests of the nuclear industry.
We show the red card to the police- and to the atomic state! All of our civil rights for personal integrity, free noticeable expression of opinion and the self-determined right of information are regularly trampled upon with police boots. During the days of the transport of nuclear waste around day “X”, prohibition zones 70 km long and 100 to 1000 m wide are used to club through the Castor-cask nuclear waste transports against the protests of the population. As a reason for the demonstration prohibition zones, the protesters are criminalized. This mutual experience of deprivation of rights works as a bond. Ranging from the grand-mother to the grand-child, everybody is using creative and colourful means of protest against the implementation of exclusively financial interests. Everybody experiencing a Castor transport to Gorleben for the first time will find himself in an unknown banana republic and not in Germany. What else could explain the regular deployment of some 16,000 to 20,000 policemen to enforce the Castor transports? The Wendland and the people living here have suffered under the 10 largest police actions after World War II in Germany. The anti-nuclear movement as a social movement is an essential part of the fight against globalization. Gorleben offers visions and a communicative environment for new ways of thinking as the social site in resistance. The co-operation of compliant politicians with the global players of nuclear industry is one of the drastic examples for the forced implementation of ecological and social destructiveness.

Solely on the basis of the enormous dangers, the nuclear industry provokes a safeguarding through police and military forces yet unknown for any other situation. At the same time, this industry leaves behind the radioactive heritage with deadly consequences for all the generations to come. The actual demand of science for the final depositing of highly active nuclear waste is a safety guarantee for at least 1 million years. This means that at least 50,000 generations will be exposed to the deadly dangers only because nuclear industry greedily profits from today’s situation. An unimaginable period of time with full of unforeseen events such as the climatic catastrophe, glacial periods, further continental drifts and various other uncertainties. There is no safe final repository for the dangerous radioactive heritage of an exclusively profit-oriented nuclear industry. Nobody knows how to protect the basic elements of our life against the contamination through the deadly radioactive waste. If the Neanderthal had set ablaze the nuclear fire, it would still be burning today without proper means of extinguishing ... What about the disputed final repository site of the salt dome of Gorleben? It has been explored since the beginning of the 80ies. The structure of the salt dome and the embedding into the surrounding geology are thus well-known. It has contact to the ground water and is thus unsuitable to prevent the penetration of the extremely dangerous nuclear waste into the biosphere. There is no sealing barrier between the salt dome and the water-bearing layers. The “Gorleben Stalactite Cavern” is thus unsuitable for the storage of the highly active nuclear waste, neither on the short nor on the long run. Gorleben would be a nuclear toilet flushing up! 

Päivitetty 2.11.2007