Wolfgang Ehmke is prepared. When it comes to the search for a repository for the gleaming scrap metal he never wanted to see produced, he handles legal advice, organizes a citizens’ initiative and maintains contacts across the republic. “There is a huge wave coming to many people in the possible repository regions. That can provoke resistance, as with Gorleben, ”he says.
Four decades of protest are behind him. Ehmke was there when thousands of people came in front of the construction site of the Brokdorf nuclear power plant from 1976 onwards and protesters fought in street fights with the police. He helped organize the Gorleben Trek to Hanover, which in March 1979 brought together more than 100,000 people against nuclear power. The citizen’s initiative for environmental protection Lüchow-Dannenberg, his initiative, was central to the movement.
The protests around Gorleben are a thing of the past. But now, when it comes to dealing with nuclear energy, the search for a place in the depths for the 1900 Castors, he finds no peace.
“The process is inadequate, there is a lack of transparency and freedom to participate. People don’t accept it ”, says Ehmke, who goes on to say:“ Gorleben belongs to the dunghill of history. Those who do not leave the mine have understood nothing of the search for a warehouse or the resistance. ‘
No location in Germany is excluded
Politicians and those involved in the search for a repository have long been concerned with what Ehmke covers. On September 28, regions will be named for the first time that qualify for a storage facility for nuclear waste. Salt, clay and granite rocks are considered geological formations. Subsequently, the Federal Association for Final Storage (BGE), in charge of the search, presents its first interim report.
Since politics resumed the search, the “white map” has been in effect – no location in Germany has been ruled out. If unsuitable areas are excluded in the first step, a few dozen, perhaps nearly 100 regions will remain, according to the BGE. That suggests resistance.
The experiences from Gorleben are present in politics: the strong opposition to the planned warehouse, the massive protests on the spot and the Castor transports through the Wendland, involving people like Ehmke. The repository actors are not only concerned with how to keep the list secret, but also how to communicate on the spot without making potential repository regions impossible through mass protests. The fear: many new Gorleben lives can emerge.
In short, regions are mentioned that are suitable for a storage site for nuclear waste. On the other hand, there may be resistance as in Gorleben … Photo: imago / photothek
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Then there is state politics. Much will depend on the degree to which the respective state governments and municipalities work together. The coalition agreement between the CSU and Free Voters in Bavaria states: “When it comes to protecting our homeland, we think beyond generations. We are convinced that Bavaria is not a suitable location for a nuclear storage site. ”
Recently, district administrators and members of the state parliament in Bavaria made public the stance that their granite was unsuitable anyway. Bavarian Environment Minister Thorsten Glauber (Free Voters) has just questioned the process. There are also concerns that the search will be instrumentalized by the AfD, especially in the East, where the argument is repeatedly heard that a definitive repository is not being built for West German nuclear waste. A hot autumn threatens politics.
Many of the actors involved in the search for a repository will retire before the location is determined
Steffen Kanitz counts the days for the interim report. On the day of the conversation with the Tagesspiegel in Berlin, there were only eighteen. “The sensitivity is already there,” he says. The republic is waking up. Better this than when she is surprised on September 28 ”.
The 36-year-old is one of the managing directors of the BGE. From 2013 to 2017 he sat for the CDU in the Bundestag, but then failed to return to the NRW state list after the heavy losses of his party. The Dortmund resident also sat on the repository committee for years, discussing the reorganization of the search. Today he is responsible for site selection.
In an interview he outlined the report – without mentioning regions. It will be several hundred pages long. There are 300 to 500 pages alone to explain how all decisions were made. A map of Germany then shows the areas that remain in the search and that do not meet the current requirements.
On September 28, dozens of regions, so-called sub-areas, are visible on the map. Kanitz speaks of a “high two-digit number”. Some will span entire provinces. But he also says: “It will be a first intermediate result.”
Many of the actors involved in the search for a repository will retire before the location of the repository is even determined. If everything goes according to plan, it will be in 2031. Few of them will see completion sometime in the 2050s. It’s different with Kanitz. When it comes to looking for a repository, he’s a man for the future.
Nuclear waste produced in Germany (here a photo of a protest action) may not be exported, but also to Germany … Photo: Sebastian Kahnert / dpa
From the BGE headquarters in Peine, Lower Saxony, he ensures that the report can be published, takes care of IT security and makes agreements with the federal office. And then there is the political process. Kanitz says there has long been “busy interest”. MPs from all parties contact him, inquire about the potential location regions and inquire about availability for September 28. Kanitz says, “I still believe in the rationality of politics – the better our decision-making basis, the more understandable politics can make decisions.”
Kanitz also knows that conflicts are imminent. But he says: “There is an agreement that we will not export the nuclear waste produced here, it must go underground in Germany.” Many will see the need for this work if the nationwide attention is focused on the search for a warehouse, even if Kanitz believes there will be limitations later. “It hurts and creates conflict,” he says. “We can handle that. But we don’t put on a harness. ”
As soon as the report is published with a map of Germany showing the possible sub-areas, the BGE will be requested. Today there are already about 3,000 questions a month from all over Germany, phone calls, emails, letters, faxes. And interest will continue to grow. The report will be published on the internet from the end of September, videos show how the methods have been applied, and online consultation hours will take place for each affected area. “A sub-area is not yet a storage place,” says Kanitz.
Preparing the countries
A look at Hanover shows how politicians are preparing. At the beginning of the month, the Minister of State for the Environment invited representatives from associations, churches and initiatives to the Hanoverian Hofkirche. Olaf Lies (SPD) is busy choosing the best possible location for the nuclear waste, but he also wants to close the ranks. “The country’s role is to be the citizens’ advocate,” Lies said after the forum. He knows all too well what problems the waste can cause. In Lower Saxony there is not only Gorleben. The Asse, the ailing mine in which 126,000 barrels of radioactive scrap were dumped, is also located in the country, as is the Konrad mine, which is currently under construction for low and medium radioactive materials.
Olaf Lies (SPD), Minister of the Environment in Lower Saxony, is following the procedure to choose the best possible location for the nuclear waste. Photo: Hauke-Christian Dittrich / dpa
In an interview with Tagesspiegel, he says, “Due to the geological structure, we must assume that there are significant parts of Lower Saxony.” There are numerous salt and clay rocks underground. “It’s important not to fall into this old reflex of fundamental rejection,” says Lies.
However, the minister also receives information abroad. In 2019 he flew to Finland, inspected the repository project, built in Kristallin. At the beginning of the year he went to France to visit a clay warehouse for low and medium radioactive materials. Switzerland will follow in October. “We want to have a better voice,” he says. That’s the technical part. “The nuclear waste scares people.” Now it’s important to bring in young people, “not just those who have been on the subject for decades.”
After the forum in the Hofkirche, Lies also said: “Lower Saxony will ensure that this trial takes place all over Germany.” This brings back memories of the exchange between Lower Saxon Prime Minister Stephan Weil (SPD) and his Bavarian colleague Markus Söder (CDU). “Geologically, Bavaria does not fit, as the existing rock has a significantly worse level of security than, say, Gorleben,” said the CSU politician.
“Nobody should believe that Lower Saxony is the nuclear toilet of the Federal Republic of Germany,” replied Weil. Lies says today: “The answer cannot be: ‘We don’t want that.’ And then you leave the waste for future generations. “
The attitude of the communities
People like Josef Klaus give hope to those involved in the search for a repository. The Mayor of the Bavarian Community says: “We need to find the best possible location for the warehouse. If it ends up in granite and in Bavaria, then I agree. Klaus is familiar with the statement of the district administrators and members of parliament in Saldenburg, about 100 kilometers away, at least party members of the CSU, but he rejects it.
“We have to allay people’s fears. Political side shots will not get us any further now. “He himself looks from the window of the town hall at the interim storage of Bella and the cooling towers of a nuclear power plant, as he says himself. ‘The waste is there. And it has to go underground before it can no longer be safely stored. “