The government in Schleswig-Holstein denies it covered up a 1986 nuclear accident linked to increased cancer cases in children living near a research facility, while the center itself says the accident never occurred.
GKSS insists it never ran secret laboratories
The government of Schleswig-Holstein has rejected severe criticism from former members of the north German state's leukemia committee that it didn't take cases of children suffering from the disease near the Krümmel nuclear power station seriously.
The government said it takes the cases of cancer illnesses "very seriously" and will try to investigate the causes of the disease in the children, a statement from the Kiel ministry of the environment explained.
Minister Klaus Müller told German broadcaster ARD's tagesschau.de Web site that the state government had spent €4.5 million ($5.7 million) on studies into the possible causes for the disease in the region's children over the past 12 years as well as funding special conferences and projects on the subject.
So far, results have been inconclusive. "One cannot reproach us for not taking the concern and the pressing questions seriously," he said nonetheless.
Research facility blamed
Led by toxicologist Otmar Wassermann, six members of the eight-strong leukemia committee resigned Monday after accusing the government in Kiel of a cover-up. They reiterated claims that confidential nuclear experiments in the nearby GKSS research center could have been a cause for the remarkable increases of leukemia cases in the region surrounding the Krümmel nuclear power station.
Plutonium pearls would not have been used at the power plant, raising suspicions of military testing.
Radioactivity expert Doctor Edmund Lengfelder of the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich was one of the committee members to resign. Dr. Lengfelder claimed in the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that possible experiments with so-called radioactive pearls of plutonium 239 could have been carried out in the development of small atomic weapons on the GKSS site near the Krümmel power station.
Anti-nuclear agenda behind allegations?
The accusations have been consistently and angrily refuted by the GKSS.
"Since we first opened in 1956, not a single military research project has ever been conducted here," Hans-Friedrich Christiansen from the GKSS told DW-World.
"We have never maintained secret laboratories, and we completely refute the claims," he added. He attributed the committee's campaign to its ties with Germany's anti-nuclear power movement and said the GKSS was planning to retaliate with legal steps to prevent further alleged defamation.
"It's extraordinary that a body of dyed-in-the-wool scientists should stoop so low," he said. "They launched a very effective media offensive based on claims that have no basis whatseover."
Suspected A-bomb experiment to blame
However, Lengfelder told tagesschau.de that there was documentation from former GKSS employees alleging that the plutonium globules were used in nuclear fission initiated as part of a military project. "One can speculate that it was used for weapon technology," he said.
The committee and many other scientists also discovered that core fuel globules had been strewn freely "on the paths, in the gardens, in freely accessible areas" in the region under investigation. However, such globules are not used in the reactors at the Krümmel power station, the committee said.
According to the scientists, it was more likely that the globules had been released during a fire at the GKSS in 1986. Thy say that the fire was observed and confirmed by the local fire department. But when the fire department report on the GKSS blaze was destroyed in a separate fire, conspiracy theories began to spin.
"This fire never occurred," argued Christiansen from GKSS.
All that remains certain now is that a major increase of radioactivity was recorded in the region in September 1986. Military personnel were observed at the time measuring levels while wearing full protective suits.
Natural radon claim "ridiculous," says expert
The body of evidence and the claim by the supervisory authority that the increased levels of radioactivity were caused by naturally released radon has led Dr. Lengfelder to label such explanations as "ridiculous and cheeky." While it is true that southern German areas record natural radon seepage, it is negligible in the north German lowlands. "If radon appears, nobody needs a full suit," Lengfelder commented.
For Lengfelder, this all leads to just one conclusion: "Such obtuse explanations turn the study of physics upside down. It all smells of a cover-up."