A German court on Wednesday gave the go-ahead for the construction of a storage facility for low- and medium-level radioactive nuclear waste, putting an end to a two-decade-long campaign to block the project.
The Konrad site could be ready for waste storage in five years
A German court in Lower Saxony on Wednesday overturned lawsuits aimed at preventing a former iron ore mine in the town of Salzgitter from being converted into a permanent storage facility for nuclear waste.
The lawsuits were brought by local councils responsible for the site of the proposed dump, as well as two farmers who fear the waste could contaminate their land.
The court upheld a ruling from the regional authorities in 2002, in which the Konrad site, as the former mine is known, was licensed to the state's environment ministry. No further appeals will be permitted.
"The mine is impervious and therefore fulfills the most important criteria," said Joachim Blüth of Lower Saxony's environment ministry.
The underground storage facility could be completed within five years. The waste will be kept in galleries sunk as deep as 1,300 meters (4,260) feet below the surface. The Konrad site will be capable of storing up to 300,000 tons of low- and medium-grade radioactive waste produced by hospitals or the pharmaceutical industry, for example.
No solution for reactor waste in sight
The facility in Salzgitter will not be used to store the highly radioactive waste from atomic energy plants -- that will continue to go to a "temporary" storage facility in the eastern German town of Gorleben.
The Gorleben storage facility has met with fierce resistance
Following the nuclear phase-out agreement struck by the former coalition government, investigations into the suitability of Gorleben's salt domes for long-term nuclear waste storage were called off, and the site's future remains uncertain.
The German environmental protection NGO BUND has called on Federal Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel to halt construction at the Konrad site until the government has agreed on a permanent storage solution for all of Germany's nuclear waste.
"Since highly radioactive waste can't be stored at the Konrad site, a second permanent storage facility still has to be found," said Renate Backhaus, atomic expert at BUND. She added that, contrary to statements from the state environment ministry, the Konrad site lacks the long-term security to make it a suitable permanent storage facility.
"The evidence for the site's long-term security no longer reflects current scientific knowledge," Backhaus said.
Federal Environment Minister Gabriel Sigmar
Following the court's decision on Wednesday, Environment Minister Gabriel said he shared in the criticism of the Konrad site project and called for consensus on a general nuclear waste storage solution for Germany.
He added that while the Konrad mine could be used to store 90 percent of the waste volume, it would "only account for 10 percent of the radioactivity in Germany."
20 years in the making
The project to build a permanent storage facility for Germany's low-grade radioactive waste was launched during the chancellery of Helmut Kohl when the current chancellor Angela Merkel was environment minister.
One billion euros ($1.19 billion) have already been invested in the project and the final cost could rise to 1.5 billion euros.
As yet, there is no consensus from scientists on the question of whether or not it is safe to store nuclear waste in geological formations deep beneath the earth's surface.