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Nuclear storage

André LeslieSeptember 28, 2012

A parliamentary investigative committee has questioned German Chancellor Angela Merkel about her role in planning the Gorleben storage facility for nuclear waste.

German Chancellor, pictured from above, waits for questions from the investigative parliamentary committee in Berlin.
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was taken to task by a parliamentary investigative committee on Thursday. She was asked to define her role in the selection of a long-term nuclear waste dump site in the German town of Gorleben. Merkel was the country's Environment Minister from 1994 to 1998. The committee is examining accusations that she ignored scientific research papers and alternative sites as she pushed ahead with construction.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses media during a news conference at Bundespressekonferenz in Berlin, September 17, 2012. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz (GERMANY - Tags: POLITICS HEADSHOT)
The investigators questioned Merkel for five hours on ThursdayImage: Reuters

At the hearing in Berlin, Merkel said she was confident she had done enough to scrutinze the site, a salt cave some 800 meters underground. "Until the end of the parliamentary period in 1998, there was no proof that Gorleben wasn't suited for the job," the Chancellor told parliamentarians during her five hour long hearing.

Merkel didn't actually choose Gorleben. Her predecessor Klaus Toepfer initially selected the Gorleben site. Merkel inherited the project when she took office.

Controversial history

The question of a final disposal site for Germany’s nuclear waste is a highly controversial issue. A disused salt mine near Gorleben in Lower Saxony has long been considered the only potential permanent nuclear waste dump. But its suitability remains controversial and there have been protests against the storage facility for nearly two decades.

Andreas Bernstorff owns the land in Gorleben that was intended to house part of the underground permanent storage facility. He has been with the opposition movement since the very beginning. "They have to look at the whole salt dome before they can really make a decision on whether it is suited for the job. They still really need to do a proper scientific analysis," he told DW in an interview.

Some analysts believe the Gorleben site was chosen in 1977 because of its location close to the former border zone between East and West Germany. In that period, Germany was still divided and the area around Gorleben was basically uninhabited.

Andreas Bernstorff refused to sell his land to the government for the nuclear waste facility.
Andreas Bernstorff refused to sell his land to the governmentImage: Privat

Greenpeace protest

Mathias Edler, an expert on nuclear power with action group Greenpeace, told DW that his organisation has reviewed the documents which were initially used to access Gorleben. "The files that we received show clearly that no proper testing was done in this instance. It was a purely political decision," he said.

The investigative committee is expected to release its findings at the end of this year. Critics say the parliamentarians participating in the will likely make their decisions along party lines. They predict that conservative lawmakers will side with the decision to stick with Gorleben, while politicians from opposition parties will say it was a mistake.

Niedersachsen/ Atomkraftgegner liegen und sitzen am Montag (28.11.11) bei einer Blockade auf einer Zufahrtsstrasse kurz vor Gorleben. Ueber 1000 Demonstranten haben die Zufahrtsstrasse zum Zwischenlager seit Sonntag (27.11.11) blockiert. Im Verladebahnhof in Dannenberg werden derzeit die elf Behaelter des Castor-Transports vom Zug auf Lkw verladen. (zu dapd-Text) Foto: Thomas Lohnes/dapd
Protestors block access to the Gorleben site in Lower SaxonyImage: dapd

Since the committee started its work in 2010, Germany has opted to pull out of nuclear power production. The decision was made shortly after the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan last year.