The nuclear waste disposal project in Gorleben is history after more than four decades. The taz was always there. A review.
“There’s a crack in the shaft”: But that came later. Gorleben Trek 1979 Photo: image
BERLIN taz | The end of the Gorleben repository project, which was sealed at the beginning of the month, was no coincidence: the story of the exploration of the salt dome is also part of the taz story. The initiatives and writers who published ten preliminary issues from September 1978 and then from April 1979 “a daily radical left newspaper” wanted to create an “instrument of movement” in addition to a professional paper.
And at that time there were mostly anti-nuclear opponents on the move in West Germany, especially in the Lüchow-Dannenberg district in Lower Saxony. A huge nuclear waste disposal center consisting of a reprocessing plant (WAA), various interim storage facilities and treatment facilities as well as the same nuclear waste disposal facility was planned there near Gorleben on twelve square kilometers.
In the very first taz on September 22, 1978, the article “Gorleben – A report from the district” filled two pages. In the preliminary editions of the taz, which appeared weekly in March 1979, the protest march by farmers and opponents of nuclear power plants from the district town of Lüchow to the capital of Lower Saxony was the lead story three times. And the front page of the last Vorab-taz shared the nuclear power plant accident in Harrisburg, USA, in which the reactor core began to melt, and the 140,000 opponents of the nuclear power plant who demonstrated against the planned disposal center at the end of the Gorleben trek in Hanover.
When the then Lower Saxony Prime Minister Ernst Albrecht announced in the state parliament six weeks later that the construction of a WAA near Gorleben was politically unenforceable, the taz was rightly skeptical: “WAA postponed, not canceled”, was the headline. In fact, two and a half years later, the CDU politician suggested building a WAA 25 kilometers west of Gorleben. However, the nuclear power plant operators opted for Wackersdorf in the Upper Palatinate – only to fail there too.
“The shaft cracks”, was the headline of the taz in May 1987. Concrete had to be filled
At Gorleben, however, further interim storage facilities for high and low level radioactive nuclear waste and a repository in the salt dome should be built according to the will of the federal and state governments. The crystallization point of the resistance were now the drillings with which the salt dome was explored from the surface of the earth. In taz Journal No. 1 Ecology, which made the resistance in Wendland the main focus for the newspaper’s one-year anniversary, it was about the pros and cons of clogging the borehole. In June 1980, the taz published a 50-page documentation about the 33-day occupation of deep drilling site 1004 with a hut village that declared itself a “Republic of the Free Wendland”.
In 1983 there were more arson attacks on construction machinery from companies involved in the construction of the Gorleben interim storage facility near Lüchow-Dannenberg. The property damage totaled around 4 million Deutschmarks within a year. Under the title “With gasoline and incense sticks”, the taz published an interview with two anonymous opponents of the nuclear power plant, who described this procedure in detail during attacks.
In the same year, the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt, which was then responsible for the disposal of nuclear waste, presented a report on the exploration of the Gorleben salt dome through drilling. The way in which representatives of the German government put the scientists involved in the report under massive pressure can be read in the taz on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the newspaper in 2009: high-ranking Bonn ministerial officials appeared unannounced for the final discussion on the report and demanded weakening changes, above all the deletion of the recommendation, to investigate a second repository site. The Gorleben investigative committee set up by the Bundestag in March 2010 was primarily based on this taz report.
Long known geological deficits
The geological deficits that caused the Gorleben salt dome to be sorted out in the current nationwide search for a repository had also been known since the early 1980s. The safety criteria for a nuclear waste repository that came into force in 1982 provided for a multi-barrier concept against the escape of radioactive substances. The overburden above the camp should act as one of these barriers. However, even the drilling for the above-ground exploration of the salt dome showed that there is no closed overburden above the salt. Ice age glaciers once shaved it off on around six square kilometers. Instead, there are layers of rubble and sand through which water flows. Melt waters have dug a channel that in places extends more than 170 meters into the salt dome.
Nevertheless, preparations for the construction of the Gorleben exploration mine began in 1984. The areas for the mine shafts were cooled with chillers via a ring of boreholes down to the salt dome. But that threatened to fail quickly. “Gorleben: The shaft cracks”, was the headline of the taz in May 1987. Salt water flowing through the subsoil had prevented the shaft area from freezing. The wall of the shaft shifted. It had to be filled with concrete at a depth of over 200 meters. A support ring had already come loose from the deformed shaft wall, killed an upper climber and injured five other miners.
The work was not resumed until the beginning of 1989 – only to be interrupted again a year later due to unexpected lye inflows at the transition to the salt. During the construction of the infrastructure areas of the mine at a depth of a good 800 meters and the investigation of the first and, at the end, only emplacement area, brine was repeatedly found, especially in anhydrite, a waterless gypsum mineral.
According to the list of solutions that the operators had to keep, a total of 440 cubic meters of brine leaked out in eight places alone. The access points were usually locked again. The amount of liquid remaining in the stone is estimated in the official directory of solutions to be up to 12,800 cubic meters – that would correspond to the volume of 13 single-family houses.
The danger of drowning
The exploration of the salt dome was stopped for ten years with the nuclear consensus of 2000 and then resumed for a short time until November 2012, pending an agreement in principle on a new site selection process. The taz warned that a Gorleben repository could drown due to the caustic deposits in the anhydrite layers in the salt dome. In 2011, similar concerns were found in an expertise of the official “Preliminary Safety Analysis for the Gorleben Site”, which was ultimately canceled.
To ensure that the lye would not seep into the salt dome, the pressure under which the deposits were measured: Put simply, the pressure is much higher when they are tightly enclosed by rock than when they are connected to the groundwater. “The pressures listed here are far below the lithostatic pressure and, assuming a brine of high density, can even reflect hydrostatic pressures,” says the expertise of the Society for Reactor Safety. Specifically: “According to these findings, ‘seclusion’ does not exist.”
Erroneous selection criteria
In the end, the taz was also able to halfway solve the riddle surrounding the selection of Gorleben as the location for a nuclear waste disposal center. In January 2010, in addition to other papers, she was presented with the cabinet proposal, on the basis of which the Lower Saxony state government had decided in favor of Gorleben in February 1977. The documents showed that geology played virtually no role in the selection of the salt dome. Rather, the decisive factor was to find the 1,200 hectare area above a salt dome that was believed to be needed for the planned nuclear waste disposal center. But that was already obsolete in 1979, when only interim storage facilities and an exploratory mine were planned at Gorleben. Both found space on 50 hectares above ground. Now, after the end of the repository project, all that remains is the 15 hectare interim storage area known from the Castor transports.