Gorleben in the Heart of Darkness
The suitability of Gorleben from a geological perspective has sparked much controversy over the years. A new study revealed the existence of gas penetration at the salt dome.
By Maysa Shawwa
Not just darkness… but a black hole engulfing hundreds of protestors into one main cause. It is a cause that has been lingering on the farmers’ tractors and on the yellow crosses, symbolizing the anti-nuclear movement, for decades. Pointing to the woods, Martina Lammers, a board spokeswoman of the Greens, said that she spent the night with the protesters trying to block the train carrying nuclear waste towards Gorleben two weeks ago. “It was very cold and the place was thorny,” Lammers described. However, not thornier than the issue of using Gorleben salt dome as a nuclear waste storage site, is to the citizens there. The suitability of Gorleben as a nuclear storage site from a geological perspective is still debated as well as whether it is safe or not for the environment and for the people living nearby.
Five hundred Hiroshima “salted” bombs at Gorleben yet safely stored
Martina Lammers explained that one castor casket contains five or seven like Hiroshima bombs. “We have around 100 containers in Gorleben, so you can imagine how significant this is,” she said.
However, Sven Dokte, spokesman for the Association for Plant and Reactor Safety (GRS), explained that not much radiation is actually being emitted compared to the amount of radiation the average person receives on a yearly basis. He said, “If we presume that we don’t have any major catastrophe that goes beyond the design, the only thing coming out of these facilities is radiation. There are limits like 0.3 mSv (measure of radiation dose) a year which is the maximum for radiation which is allowed to be measured at the facilities. From a scientific view, this dose limit will probably not be exceeded. The daily measurements are very hard to measure in these areas. Those limits have to be held. This is something I don’t refer to as dangerous.”
He added that one receives this amount of radiation which is 0.3 mSv a year when standing at the fence site 365 days and 24 hours a day which is not a realistic thing. So scientists won’t label the house and environmental effects of that as severe.
Dokte made clear that the radiation emitted from a nuclear waste storage site isn’t as dangerous as people might think. He said,
“A lot of people aren’t really thinking about whether they receive the third… the fifth… or even the sixth X-ray examination in one year. They just go there and don’t even worry about it, but they fear these 0.3 mSv at the fence site that they would receive if they stood there for one year. The majority aren’t familiar with the scientific background of the issue, the dose limits, and the effects of radiation.”
|Radiation amounts:The natural background radiation that one receives from radiation that comes from space and also from the radioactive elements underground in the earth in Germany is about 2.3 mSv (measure of radiation dose) a year. There are some variations depending on where one lives in Germany and that is because of different geological spheres that sometimes contribute to radiation. When one takes a look at what a normal person on average receives radiation a year not only from this natural radiation but also from other things like x-ray radiation examinations, smoking, flying and all things that don’t have to do with nuclear power then one easily can get up to doses like 5 6 or 7 mSv a year.If someone works in nuclear facility in Germany then he/she may receive up to 20 mSv a year which is acceptable. And the probability of cancer which one can measure is from about 100 mSv a year.|
Regarding the safety of casks, Michael Koebl, head of press and public relations at GNS Group, Competence for Nuclear Services, the company responsible for packaging the nuclear waste for disposal, said that all of the packages are safe and “transporting them whether on streets, railroads, or storing them in our interim storage facilities doesn’t cause any danger to the environment or to the people living near our facilities and also for the people working in our facilities.” He added that they as a company has to prove there is no danger because it is the only way to get a license to do the work.
Jorgen Auer, Public Relations Manager for GNS at the Gorleben site showed a video explaining how the casks maintain their integrity and remain intact after different deliberately induced actions are done. There were tests pertaining to cases of earthquake simulations and train carrying nuclear waste crash accidents. The tests proved how the casks preserved the nuclear waste inside regardless of various deliberately induced actions.
Water and Gas at Gorleben Storage Site
Under the name “uncertainty analysis of Gorleben”, the geologist Dr. Ulrich Kleemann, who was the head of the Department Safety and Nuclear Waste Management at the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) in Salzgitte, discussed on Tuesday 13 December the geological shortcomings of Gorleben as a waste storage site and the reasons behind the unsuitability of Gorleben as a final nuclear repository.
Dr. Kleemann came to the conclusion in his study “Evaluation of the final repository Gorleben: Geological problems and open questions in connection with a preliminary safety analysis Gorleben (VSG), Regional geology and site suitability” that the salt dome lies in an active fault zone, beneath it are “potentially gas-bearing strata.” This means that there could be dangerous ground movements in the area. His study showed that a protective layer of clay is lacking above the salt dome and that there might be sub-salt gas that could penetrate into the salt dome. He concluded in his study that Gorleben site does not satisfy the minimum requirements for a Repository site and is classified as unsuitable.
The Federal Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen had already announced in November 2011 a new beginning in the repository search. Florian Emrich, the spokesman for BFS, The Federal Office of Radiation Protection, expressed his gratitude of this announcement, “we were quite glad with this process, but nobody knows yet what will the final outcome be. We need another 15 years.”
From a geological perspective, Emrich seemed hectic to give a clear answer about this. He said that they don’t know if Gorleben is suitable or not. He added, “The number of questions have been identified which will take some time to answer them for example we have found gas and oil around the walls and traces of gas and oil in the salt mine.”
The Federal Office of Radiation Protection, BFS, has to look on how the whole dome is formed especially “if there is any possibility of water and reservoirs in the salt dome or even if there’s danger of water from over ground or from higher and other geological structures that might be getting to the salt dome”, Emrich explained.
Rebecca Harms, the co-leader of the Green/European Free Alliance group in the European Parliament, seemed to confirm the unsuitability of Gorleben as a nuclear storage site from a geological standpoint by pointing several crucial points, “Firstly, the salt stock in Gorleben lacks of a stable bearing. The Federal Office for Radiation Protection demands as a minimum requirement for the suitability of salt stocks to be radioactive waste repositories the existence of a natural multi-barrier system, which is not given in the case of the salt stock in Gorleben.”
Secondly, she said that the salt dome has contact to the ground water. Interstice volumes in the salt stock caused by the ground water contact are hence very likely, which makes the salt stock itself unstable. In case of direct contact between nuclear waste and ground water, she explained, a contamination of the biosphere would be the consequence, as the ground water directs to the ground level both collateral and vertical of the salt stock.
In addition to that, Harms elaborated that current analysis has found the greatest occurrence of natural gas in Germany under the salt stock, which disqualifies it once again. The place around Gorleben will be contaminated as the result of that, stressed Martina Lamers.
“We don’t need another Fukushima to remind us about how dangerous nuclear energy is”
expressed Martina Lammers. The solution in her view is to use alternative energy. She pointed out that she is working on several projects in order to show people how non-renewable energy could replace nuclear energy in their daily lives.