Sigmar Gabriel, the German environment minister has accused the nuclear power industry of decades of lying to the public about a nuclear dump that is in danger of collapsing and is taking in 12 cubic meters of radioactive brine daily.
Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, told a newspaper: "We have now found files with proof that the claim that Asse was an exploratory mine was a pack of lies. It was intended to be a final repository right from the start - the nuclear industry used Asse to even save the costs of interim storage. The waste was just tipped in and they even had the audacity to demand that costs be kept as low as possible."
The dump in question is Asse II at Wolfenbüttel near Braunschweig, some 225 km southwest of Berlin. It was meant to be the pilot for a final repository in salt at Gorleben, 135 kms northeast, where illegal plans have just been revealed.
Gabriel demands that the operators of nuclear power stations pay the more than two billion euros it will cost to fix Asse II and that they make a public apology.
Gabriel cites an exchange of letters in November and December 1969 between the AEG Company and the then operator of Asse II, the Gesellschaft für Strahlenforschung (Society for Radiation Research).
The correspondence explicitly refers to the final storage of radioactive wastes. The operator states that storage capacity would last "until the year 2000". Gabriel says the operator had even confirmed in writing to the nuclear industry "that the future price of the storage of radioactive waste materials will not be calculated according to strict commercial principles".
He adds that the environment ministry only received the files after massive pressure and a long delay. "The present-day claim that Asse was a research mine is an audacious, fat lie." It was now clear that the responsibility for the catastrophic conditions in Asse II lies with the nuclear industry and its former operator, the Society for Radiation Research.
The minister told the paper: "There was a shameless gang at work. I can only call on the nuclear industry to finally accept its responsibility and apologize publicly." It would have an opportunity to do so next week at a conference of the energy and water industries.
"And the nuclear power station operators must pay for fixing the problem even before lawmakers get active. We can't accept that costs of more than two, perhaps three or four billion euros for fixing a cheap final repository in Asse are dumped on the taxpayers."
A spokesman for the local activists fighting dumping at Gorleben, Wolfgang Ehmke of the Bürgerinitiative Umweltschutz Lüchow-Dannenberg, said Gabriel could use the same drastic words about Gorleben. "We didn't even speak as plainly when it emerged recently that already in the 90s the Gorleben salt dome was being constructed as a final repository." Ehmke adds that since the 80s the nuclear power industry even cited the "exploratory mine" as proof of disposal although not a gram of waste was stored in it and the salt is highly contentious among experts. "Anyone who claims that open-ended research is being done in Gorleben and a fair, transparent search of alternate sites is being done is lying," says Ehmke.
Environment Minister Gabriel appealed to Chancellor Angela Merkel to make the nuclear industry foot the bill for fixing Asse II. Merkel belongs to the conservative Christian Democrat party, which leads the government, in which the Social Democrats are the junior coalition partners.
It's a fraught relationship and with an election due in September its differences are becoming ever more obvious. Merkel's party backs nuclear power and wants Gorleben officially declared the final waste repository although geologists warn that it has the same problems as Asse.
Germany officially has four deposits for nuclear waste. A pit was dug in salt at Gorleben to explore its suitability and a surface hall nearby holds containers of highly active waste in "interim" storage. Morsleben is an abandoned rock salt mine. Schacht Konrad is a former iron mine.