While inspecting a salt mine in the northern German town of Gorleben on Thursday, members of a parliamentary subcommittee were divided over whether the site could be Germany's first permanent nuclear storage site.
Gorleben's salt mine could serve as a permanent nuclear storage site
German lawmakers are at odds over the future of one of the country's temporary sites for the storage of nuclear waste in the northern German town of Gorleben.
A parliamentary subcommittee made up of members of the five main parties inspected the site on Thursday to ascertain if a decision taken 30 years ago to consider it as a location for Germany's first permanent storage site for atomic waste was based on scientific evidence or was politically motivated.
Consensus as elusive as ever
Politicians from the opposition saw their skepticism strengthened after the inspection. Social Democrat Ute Vogt insisted that Gorleben "had by no means been selected for reasons based on scientific and professional evidence."
Gorleben has seen a series of protests in the last 30 years
Green committee member Sylvia Kotting-Uhl said the geological problems were "substantial".
The representative from the ruling Christian Democrats, Reinhard Grindel, on the other hand, said that he still hoped Gorleben could serve as a storage site. He also said he saw no evidence that the government 30 years ago had manipulated the decision on the salt mine. "As things stand now, that is not the case," he said after the inspection.
Environmental campaigners, however, disagree. "Gorleben is an area that's very sparsely populated," Kerstin Rudek from the local environmental action group told Deutsche Welle.
"We're also right near the former inner-German border and the population is very conservative," she added, implying that local resistance to being a nuclear dumping ground was relatively low in a country otherwise known for its anti-nuclear stance.
Germans are largely against nuclear energy
Germany's 17 nuclear reactors produce 450 tonnes of radioactive waste every year. By law, the government needs to find a permanent storage site that has to be up and running by 2030.
Thirty years ago, the German government chose Gorleben as a potential permanent storage site for waste from nuclear energy. In 2000, that decision was reversed by the ruling coalition of Greens and Social Democrats, because the salt mine was deemed geologically unsuitable.
Now, the current government has ordered a security review of the site, which will see its suitability explored further in the next seven years. But the opposition says the review is ill-conceived.
"What's happening in Gorleben is not an exploration," the former environment minister and member of the Green Party, Juergen Trittin told German broadcaster ARD on Thursday
"The word 'exploration' is the biggest lie in politics at the moment. Gorleben is not being explored - it's already been well explored," he said.
Trittin, as well as other opposition politicians, would like the government to explore alternative sites in mountainous regions, where nuclear waste would be more likely to be contained. But these are no more than vague suggestions, say anti-nuclear campaigners.
"Germany has been producing nuclear energy and nuclear waste for 40 years now, without having any answers as to where to put the waste, " Kerstin Rudek told Deutsche Welle.
"So, we say, shut down the nuclear plants, because we don't have a clue where to put this atomic waste."
Author: Nicole Goebel
Editor: Susan Houlton