Damage Apparently Kept Secret at German Nuclear Waste Site | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 16.01.2009

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Damage Apparently Kept Secret at German Nuclear Waste Site

The heat has been turned up on Germany's radiation protection office after it was revealed that an old salt mine in the German state of Lower Saxony, where nuclear waste is being stored, has sustained damaged.

Yellow storage jars are placed beside a destination board 'Mine Asse' by nuclear power opponents in Remlingen, Germany

Germany's radiation protection office says there is no immediate danger of a leak at Asse

The Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) had learned late last year that pieces of the ceiling of the 750-meter (2,500-foot) deep chamber were unstable and could collapse on top of the 6,000 radioactive waste drums below.

The information about the Asse nuclear waste site was posted discreetly on the radiation office's Web site late Wednesday, Jan. 14.

Lower Saxony Environment Minister Hans-Heinrich Sander said he was only informed of the damage to the storage site Thursday, but the radiation office said the ministry had been informed all along.

The BfS said it could not rule out damage to the waste containers should the Asse site ceiling collapse, but gave its reassurances that it would reinforce the seals of the chamber with concrete to stop any radioactive dust or air escaping.

Precautionary step

Drums of radioactive waste at the Asse mine

The office says it will reinforce the chamber containing radioactive waste drums

The office said the measures were only a precaution and that there was no immediate danger posed by the site. It said the waste inside the chamber contained only "weak" levels of radioactivity.

The site has not been used for fresh radioactive storage since 1978, with environmental groups regularly calling for waste there to be removed and stored in a safer location.

Nuclear energy has been a contentious issue in Germany for several decades. A majority of Germans oppose the construction of new nuclear plants because of what they believe to be the high risk of a terrorist attack.

But with most industrialized nations seeking to lower their carbon footprint, nuclear power has received a fresh breath of life. German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative CDU party says turning back to nuclear could reduce Germany's dependence on Russian gas and Middle Eastern oil.

Merkel's party want to examine possible life extensions to some of Germany's 17 nuclear power stations. Not doing so, the party says, would undermine the country's goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

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