Germany restarts hunt for nuclear waste dump

New facility for 28,000 tonnes of nuclear material to open by 2040

A woman wears a mask during a protest against nuclear power. The 1977 decision to store waste in a salt mine in Gorleben, 125km southeast of Hamburg, was made without public consultation and prompted decades of protest. Photograph: Getty Images

A woman wears a mask during a protest against nuclear power. The 1977 decision to store waste in a salt mine in Gorleben, 125km southeast of Hamburg, was made without public consultation and prompted decades of protest. Photograph: Getty Images

Thu, Apr 11, 2013, 10:32

After 36 years of political feuds and citizen protests, Germany has gone back to the drawing board in its hunt for somewhere to store its nuclear waste.

A contentious 1977 decision to deposit high-risk nuclear waste in a salt mine in the state of Hesse will be rescinded after government and opposition lawmakers in Berlin agreed to start the search for a new site.

Federal environment minister Peter Altmaier said agreement to find a new site “resolves amicably the last controversial topic in the atomic age”.

The preliminary agreement, likely to approved by the Bundestag in July, empowers a committee of experts to identify a shortlist of sites by 2015. A final decision is to be taken by 2031 and the facility has to be built by 2040.

As part of a push to renewable energy, Germany aims to switch off its last nuclear power plant by 2022. About 28,000 tonnes of radioactive waste will by then still be without a permanent home.

Since West Germany’s first nuclear reactor went online in 1960, authorities have stored spent nuclear elements and other radioactive material in three provisional, above- ground sites in the country.

Spent fuel rods are transported out of the country each year for reprocessing.

The 1977 decision to store waste in a salt mine in Gorleben, 125km southeast of Hamburg, was made without public consultation and prompted decades of protest.

The passing decades raised questions about the rural site: once near the inner-German border, Gorleben is now in the centre of a reunited country. Fears were raised, too, about the stability of the salt mine as a permanent home for the waste, which will remain radioactive for at least 200,000 years.