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Near core meltdown covered up in GDR

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(February 9, 1990) On 24 November 1989, Central Europe stood at the edge of a nuclear disaster only comparable to the one at Chernobyl in 1986. Just recently released reports, secretly hidden by the East German authorities, state that a near core melt down occurred at the nuclear power plant in Greifswald (GDR).

(326-327.32) WISE Amsterdam/WISE Stockholm - In order to test the emergency switch off system of the new fifth block of the reactor, three out of six cooling water pumps were switched off. Instead of the expected automatic switch-off, the fourth pump broke down and the reactor went out of control. When the crew finally succeeded in switching the reactor off manually, ten fuel elements were damaged - a local meltdown. The triggers to the missing automatic switch-off were, according to an official investigation commission, sticky contacts of relays which were sloppily constructed, as was the rest of the Soviet-built reactor.

This accident has been the last in a series of dangerous and highly dangerous incidents:

  • In 1974, only a hastily spread jumping-sheet prevented some control rods from falling into the fully loaded center of the reactor.
  • In the mid seventies, all main water pumps broke down. Workers had forgotten to re-install six small iron lids during a checkup.
  • In 1981, de-ionized water got into the active zone of the reactor. The splitting process speed increased and temperature rose out of control.
  • In 1976, the most severe accident occurred. Following a fire within the reactor, the complete cooling system of block 1 broke down. Only the coincidence that one of the six emergency cooling pumps was connected to the neighboring reactor prevented a core meltdown.

Even more impressive read the everyday conditions. The nuclear power plant was kept on the net under nearly all circumstances: Drunken staff, a leaking and unstable reactor building, paint covered finger-wide welding seams, missing containments, missing replacement and construction materials, chaos in cable connections, handwork on many contamination involved works, sinking foundations and radiation levels 10,000 times in excess. In order to keep working and construction conditions secret, some 40 people from the Stasi (the East German Intelligence Service) were in charge at Greifswald. Workers and staff were intimidated and at the same time wages were twice as high as in other comparable industrial fields. For decontamination work soldiers were also engaged. Chromosome damage was discovered in six workers, as well as high death cancer rates among the staff. Workers at the Greifswald nuclear power plant knew about its obsolete equipment that often broke down and the bad conditions of the plant. They had already changed the name the plant was known by, "Power Plant North", into "Chernobyl North".

Fear in Sweden that fallout from a nuclear accident in East Germany would be blown over Scandinavia led to widespread press coverage of the Greifswald scandal in Sweden. The Swedish government has officially asked the East German government for a report on the situation.

However, the Swedish government's concern doesn't seem to be shared by Sweden's nuclear industry. When the East German government publicly announced that it would close Greifswald down if the facility doesn't pass inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Swedish nuclear industry offered to help get the reactor past that inspection. The same offer has been made to the USSR for the Ignalina reactor in Lithuania.


  • taz (FRG), 29 Jan. 1990
  • Dagens Nyheter (Sweden), 28 Jan. 1990
  • WISE-Stockholm.