German and Russian activists stop nuclear waste transport to Russia


German and Russian activists have made the German government scrap its plan to transport spent nuclear fuel to an area of Russia that is the most radioactively contaminated on the globe and where no processing of it is available. Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen said the “harmless disposal” of the waste could not be guaranteed. The recycling plant at Mayak is not working, and even when it is, it contaminates the Tetsha River. Only when “harmless disposal” could be guaranteed would another licence for the transport be considered, the minister said.


Activists in Ahaus, where the waste is now in a hall, note that he’s leaving the door open for future waste transportation to Russia “and we’ll have to stay alert”.

(If you understand German, you may want to watch a television report about Mayak which I've translated. There’s also a film about Mayak in Russian with German or English subtitles.)

The Ahaus activists remind the anti-nuclear movement that in Jülich near Cologne 152 waste caskets are awaiting shipment to Ahaus next year. Low and medium radioactive waste from Duisburg and Jülich is still being dumped in Ahaus, although a former iron ore mine in north Germany, Schacht Konrad, earmarked as final repository, is becoming more and more of a mirage.

And in nearby Gronau, site of Germany’s only uranium enrichment plant, an interim repository for uranium waste may be built next year.

“Nuclear waste can’t be got rid of. We urgently need an end to nuclear power production,” the Ahaus resistance write.

They’re calling for large attendance at a demonstration there this Sunday (12 Dec).

Earlier it looked likely that two nuclear waste consignments were to run through Germany, most likely simultaneously, around the middle of this month.

I would have thought the activist movement too stretched to put up much resistance to both of them.

I imagined the anti-nuclear movement out of puff after 50,000 just turned up to protest waste dumping in Gorleben, 20,000 a few weeks prior at 120 locations across the country, a few months further back 150,000 in Berlin and dribs and drabs all over the place all the time.

One of my Gorleben contacts agrees with my supposition that double-trouble was government strategy to keep protest as fragmented and hence as small as possible, but “those who can, will engage. C’est la vie”.

Mobilisation talk on the web says actions are planned in about 50 towns against a shipment from a plutonium facility in Cadarache, southern France, to Lubmin on the German Baltic coast.

Five caskets for the transportation and storage of nuclear waste (CASTORS), containing highly radioactive waste from an abandoned recycling facility near Karlsruhe in Germany, and four CASTORS from the French nuclear research centre in Cadarache are to be transported to an interim repository near Lubmin, a Baltic beach resort. (See more on Baltic radioactive pollution below.)

On Saturday 11 December a rally will start protests in Greifswald, near the Lubmin temporary storage hall.

On the Ahaus-Mayak plan, the federal government has to contend with some hiccups, through no one doubts that they’ll ultimately get their way. Various German local governments have banned the use of their ports (though I don’t see how they can sustain that), the state government responsible for Ahaus doesn’t want the shipment to happen and there’s no treaty with Russia yet, though one is awaiting signature. There’s also talk of a French port being used.

The spent fuel to come from France is especially dangerous, weapons-grade highly enriched uranium, which had earlier been declared as cleaning rags, medical waste and so on.

The Lubminers, who’ve just hosted a meeting by 45 north German anti-nuclear groups, say thousands are expected to protest against the delivery to their seaside town, a tourism resort.

On the day of the transport, expected to be 15 or 16 December, actions are planned throughout Germany along the route the train carrying the CASTORS to Lubmin will take. Action is being mobilised especially in such towns as Erfurt, Halle, Magdeburg, Ludwigslust, Rostock, Potsdam/Berlin and Neubrandenburg as well as at the Franco-German border near Karlsruhe.

Rail squat blockades and creative actions are planned for the last 22 kilometres of track from Greifswald to the interim depot. This is the sort of scenario the Gorlebeners are good at because their CASTORS also travel 70 local kilometres by rail and 20 by road from the railhead to the storage hall, and they’re acting as “consultants” to the locals. Encouraged by the waves of protest in recent months, the Lubmin groups say they’re preparing on a bigger scale than ever, for example in arranging sleeping places for visitors.

“We will not just stand idly by as the scandalous transport races along at a reckless 100 km per hour, as it did recently in Gorleben,” said civil engineer Bernd Ebeling. “The transport as such is already a huge safety risk.”

Physicist Wolfgang Neumann from Hanover, a nuclear expert, explained that in case of an accident with a long-burning fire (such as the explosion of a tank wagon) large amounts of radioactive particles could be released. In wind direction even 15 km away the limit of 50 millisieverts in the radiation protection regulations would be exceeded; within a radius of five kilometres the population would have to be evacuated or resettled long-term.


Most radioactively contaminated sea


The Baltic is the most radioactively polluted ocean in the world. It’s more or less like a big lake, with not much water exchange with other seas; all radioactivity reaching it gets concentrated there. The biggest (historical) atomic polluters of the Baltic were the 1986 reactor catastrophe of Chernobyl, the earlier worldwide open-air nuclear bomb tests and the discharges of the nuclear facilities in Sellafield (UK).

Additionally there are the later impacts of the nuclear power plants around the Baltic seaboard. The Swedish reactors have the biggest impact to the radioactivity of the Baltic Sea, followed by the Finnish reactors and eventually by the Russian facilities. Nuclear waste, uranium and fuel element transports across the Baltic Sea are increasing the atomic risk as well as the proposed final repositories for high level radioactive waste beneath (!) the Baltic Sea in Forsmark (Sweden) and Olkiluoto (Finland). If plans for uranium mining and power plants construction projects in Scandinavia go ahead, the radioactive contamination of the Baltic will be increased even more.

Outside scientific circles, not much is known about the Baltic’s radioactivity. Some regions lack even a basic knowledge and awareness of the risks of the technology, and many people around this inland sea don’t even know certain facilities exist.

While an active anti-nuclear movement exists in Germany, the former strong movements of Denmark and Sweden have disappeared nearly completely and the establishment of new groups is progressing slowly as people are confronted with new projects of the nuclear industry. In Finland a lively new movement against the atomic projects there has grown during the last few years, working closely with and supported by international activists.