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Radioactive waste leaking at German storage site

Andy Valvur with dpa
April 16, 2018

More than 400 barrels of low-level nuclear waste reportedly have to be examined and possibly repacked at a storage facility in Lower Saxony. The contents are predominantly from X-ray and cancer therapy waste.

A warning sign at a nuclear waste storage facility
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Sauer

According to a report from NDR, North German Public Radio, there are hundreds of barrels of low-level nuclear waste at an interim storage facility in the town of Leese, in Lower Saxony, that have to be examined for leaks and possibly re-packed and resealed in new barrels.

State environment minister Olaf Lies of the SPD told DPA news agency on Sunday that there are 442 barrels that have to be checked for moisture formation inside the barrel.

Some of the barrels have to be dried, while others, which contain highly toxic substances, have to be re-packed and sealed, NDR reported.

The operator of the interim storage facility, Eckert & Ziegler, told DPA they would "not comment on speculations from third parties in other media."

Long time storage site

Radioactive waste from the federal state has been stored in Leese for years. According to NDR, the barrels contain medical waste from X-ray surgeries or cancer therapy. There are a total of 1484 barrels.

Photos from the Ministry of the Environment show barrels that have been stacked up to the ceiling in several layers, row by row. Between them there is a passage that is just 70 centimeters (27.5 inches) wide.

Thorben Gruhl a member of a local citizens' initiative considers this irresponsible.

"They (barrels) are so densely stacked that only a very limited number of them can even be reached. We can now see that rusty barrels are somewhere in the second row,” said Gruhl.

When questioned by the state parliament's environmental committee in 2016, the Lower Saxony Ministry of the Environment listed a total of seven problem barrels. Now that number is much higher.

Minister of the Environment Olaf LIes
State Minister of the Environment Olaf Lies has been in office for five monthsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/H. Hollemann

How long will they remain?

The storage facility is located in an industrial area of Leese, about 100 meters (330 feet) from a furniture warehouse, a recycling yard and a paintball facility.

The Ministry publishes the results of the radioactive measurements on the fence in Leese. According to the report, no increased radiation has been detected at the former ammunition factory. But behind walls that are one meter-thick, the radiation is up to 2600 times higher.

Even if the barrels are successfully repaired and moved, the question still remains  —where to put them? There is no final repository for nuclear waste.

The Konrad mine in Lower Saxony, which has been slated to be the repository for low-level nuclear waste, will probably not be ready until 2027.

According to NDR, Environment Minister Lies recently said in state parliament that the barrels should probably be returned to Leese to await final disposal.

As for the future, there is a tender offer document that says, ‘All barrels are to be processed by the end of 2025.'

But even that may change.

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