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Gorleben sign
Gorleben has been a temporary dump since 1983Image: AP

Toxic documents

April 14, 2010

Greenpeace said it had obtained partly classified documents which prove that Gorleben should not have been used as a nuclear waste site.


The environmental activist group Greenpeace said on Wednesday that it had obtained official documents, which prove that the salt mines in the German town of Gorleben should not have been used as a disposal site for nuclear waste.

"There was never a scientific selection procedure that concluded the salt mines in Gorleben would be the best choice," Greenpeace nuclear expert Mathias Edler told reporters at a press conference in Berlin. "Geological criteria for a nuclear disposal site in the salt mines played a minor role."

Greenpeace said the more than 12,000 pages of partly classified documents, which date back to the mid-1970's, are from the Lower Saxony state chancellery, environment ministry, and the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources.

The group said it would post all of its findings, as well as all of the documents, on the Internet.

Gorleben has been used as a temporary nuclear waste repository since 1983. Last month, after a 10-year moratorium, the German Environment Ministry announced that exploration would resume to see if Gorleben is suitable as a permanent disposal site. The move was sharply criticized by the Green Party and environmentalists.

Political reasons

Greenpeace said the documents cited on Wednesday show that the selection of Gorleben as a disposal site was made primarily for political reasons. Greenpeace nuclear expert Mathias Edler told Deutsche Welle that the town had not been seriously considered as a site until the then-Christian Democrat premier of the state of Lower Saxony at the time, Ernst Albrecht, decided in favor of its construction.

"Albrecht appears to have based his decision solely on the promise of up to 4,000 new jobs being created in the economically depressed region around Gorleben," Edler said. "All evidence suggests that Gorleben was neither the result of a watertight scientific probe, nor was the political decision-making transparent for the general public."

Gorleben protests
The site has been controversial for many yearsImage: AP

One document from 1977 quotes Albrecht as saying that if the disposal site was not built in Gorleben, it would "not be built anywhere" in Lower Saxony.

Another document shows that Gorleben was added by pencil to the results of a study from the German Association for Technical Inspection in Hannover. The study had not previously considered Gorleben as a disposal site, and recommended the town of Nieby in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, near the border with Denmark.

Water deposits

One sign of political manipulation, according to Greenpeace, was that the discovery of a water deposit near the salt mines was deliberately omitted from another study. Ullrich Schneider, a Kiel-based geologist, told Deutsche Welle that the discovery of water should have taken Gorleben off the list of potential nuclear waste sites.

"Water in the vicinity of the salt stock poses a huge risk of corrosion of the waste containers," said Schneider. "A leak could cause nuclear brine to seep into the environment."

Gorleben underground mine
A moratorium on exploration at Gorleben was recently liftedImage: DW

The allegations brought forward by Greenpeace pose a serious obstacle for the current federal government's plan to restart the exploration of Gorleben. Reinhard Grindel, a senior Christian Democrat, argued that although it was no secret that Gorleben was not an ideal site, it is still a suitable location.

"It is an undisputed fact that up until the year 2000 no-one, not even the red-green government of Chancellor (Gerhard) Schroeder called Gorleben into question," Grindel told reporters. "So it's not so important to focus on what has led to the decision, but on the fact that the site is still the only one in Germany to promise a solution to our nuclear waste problem."

A parliamentary committee is now looking into allegations that suitability studies that led to the Gorleben decision were manipulated for political reasons.

Author: Matthew Kang
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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