Minister halts transport of German nuclear waste to Russia | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 06.12.2010
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Minister halts transport of German nuclear waste to Russia

Germany’s Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen says nuclear waste from a former East German reactor will not be transported to Russia. He said conditions for the safe processing of the fuel were not in place.

Atomic waste symbol

The waste will remain in Germany for up to 40 years

German Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen decided on Monday that nuclear waste from a former East German nuclear plant - earmarked for shipment to Russia - would stay in Germany for the time being.

The Federal Office for Radiation Protection had already approved the plan to ship fuel rods from the small Baltic port of Lubin to Russia but, following the analysis of a study commissioned by the government, Roettgen's ministry decided against.

Norbert Roettgen

Roettgen decided that the Russian facility was not up to the task

"The result of the study was that a completely safe processing of the fuel rods could not be guaranteed at the Mayak site in Russia," a spokeswoman for Roettgen said. "This is why we cannot give the green light for the planned transports, which means the fuel rods will have to stay in the Ahaus facility until further notice."

The government was considering sending 951 spent fuel rods from a reactor in Rossendorf, near Dresden, to Mayak in Russia.

The rods were used until 1991 and the state of Saxony, which owns the rods, put them into interim storage at Ahaus, North-Rhine Westphalia, in 2005. The long-term plan was to store them in Mayak because they originated in the former Soviet Union.

Mayak is one of the oldest nuclear research centers of the former Soviet Union and was also home to one of the largest-ever nuclear tests.

The decision is being hailed by anti-nuclear activists as a victory. The plan had been to transport 951 old fuel rods from their current location and large German ports such as Hamburg had refused to handle the cargo, fearing it may pose hazards.

Site of serious accidents

Russia's Mayak storage and reprocessing unit has been the site of a series of serious accidents since the 1950s and it is now one of the world's most radioactively contaminated places. Greenpeace Germany has been warning against shipping the fuel rodds there all along.

"One doesn't have to go back to the accidents that happened there in the 1950s and 60s," said Tobia Münchmeyer of Greenpeace Germany. "In 2007, there were two incidents where highly contaminated fuels leaked out of the facility. And just like the rest of the world, Russia doesn't have a final storage site for nuclear waste and it has no solution for the problem."

An anti-nuclear flag

Opponents of nuclear power greeted the news warmly

Germany's Green Party, known for its opposition to nuclear power, said that its own campaign had helped to win the correct decision.

"The minister took the right decision today. It was the result of a large-scale public debate triggered by public pressure groups and the Greens. And under this pressure, it became impossible for the government to send this spent fuel to Russia."

According to the Environment Ministry, the spent nuclear fuel in question can only safely be stored in the Ahaus interim facility for another 35 years. The hope is that, by then, Germany will have found a suitable final storage site.

Author: Hardy Graupner (rc)
Editor: Andy Valvur

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