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Not in my Back Yard...

Germany has some 24,000 tons of highly radioactive waste to bury. Just where, however, is a problem still unsolved by the German government.


Germany has to find somewhere where to store its nuclear waste

The German environmental lobby may still be jubilant over plans by the current ruling Red-Green coalition to scrap nuclear power in Germany, but they still face the major problem of finding a place to store the country's nuclear waste.

Over the weekend, the AKEnd - the aptly named “Arbeitskreis Endlager”, a working group made up of 16 German top scientists got together to discuss this crucial issue in Berlin.

Set up in 1999, the AKEnd was commissioned by Environment Minister Jürgen Trittin to find Germany’s atomic waste a final resting place. The group commissioned various year-long surveys, which it presented at a public forum. But despite the numerous meetings, debates and reports, a solutions has remained illusive.

Volcanic regions ruled out

It may be unclear as to exactly where Germany’s 24,000 tons of highly radioactive and 297,000 tons of less-radioactive nuclear waste can be stored, but scientists have at least settled on where it can’t go: The panel has ruled out volcanic regions and areas at risk from earthquakes.

In addition, the panel has agreed on the geological conditions of the storage facility. Salt, Clay and Granite lands are all top of the list, regarded as stable enough ground in which to bury atomic matter. However, even here, there is disagreement as to how relatively safe each of these are.

One main problem is to find a place where the potentially lethal matter cannot fall into the hands of terrorists. Wherever it goes, it has to be way out of sight: “a deep geological formation”, is what the AKEnd recommended this weekend.

Political hot potato

However, it is not necessarily surprising that solutions are not forthcoming. The question of a final disposal site for Germany’s nuclear waste is a highly controversial issue.

Intermediate storage for radioactive waste has been found and transports have been on the move in Germany since the late 1990’s, ending up at a facility in the small town of Gorleben in Lower Saxony.

The transports have been met with violent opposition with protestors going as far as chaining themselves to train tracks in an attempt to stop the trains reaching their destination. Until now, however, protestors have won only small victories. At most they have delayed the trains, but have never succeeded in turning them back.

What will happen to Gorleben's intermediate storage site is still unknown to the area's population. The final report, in which the AKEnd panel, will make its recommendations for a final disposal site is expected by the end of the year.