Nuclear Imperatives and Public Trust: Dealing with Radioactive Waste

By Luther J. Carter | Go to book overview
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8
Germany: Wastes, Fuel Cycle Choice, and Politics

The Gorleben Salt Dome Project

The geologic investigation of the salt dome at the village of Gorleben in Lower Saxony is the most advanced effort in the world to establish a repository for high-level waste from commercial nuclear power facilities. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant project in New Mexico is further along, but that repository will be for transuranic waste from nuclear weapons programs. The Germans are gambling boldly, even a bit imprudently, by investigating only one kind of rock (dome salt) and a single site (the Gorleben dome) without identifying back-up sites. If the Gorleben dome is confirmed as a geologically acceptable site, construction of a repository could begin by the mid 1990s, probably putting the Germans ahead of every other country in establishing such a facility. But a repository at this salt site, or at any salt site, will almost certainly not allow retrievable storage of spent fuel (see chapter 5). This could be important in the light of controversies currently raging in Germany over fuel reprocessing--controversies which may yet lead to reprocessing's abandonment, long deferral, or severely constrained development.

When the Gorleben project was conceived some ten years ago, it was to be much more than a nuclear waste repository. But much has changed since then. There may be no better way into the political thicket of German nuclear fuel cycle policies and prospects than to start with an account of what has happened at Gorleben.

The Gorleben salt dome is at an elbow of the Elbe River, which forms the frontier between the Federal Republic of Germany ( FRG, or West Germany) and the Democratic German Republic (DDR, or East Germany), and extends beneath the Elbe several miles into East Germany. This part of Lower Saxony is devoted principally to agriculture and forestry, and is about as far removed from the mainstream of the highly

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