Almost three weeks after the German nuclear phase-out, Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke visited the dilapidated Asse nuclear waste storage facility near Wolfenbüttel in Lower Saxony. “I’m really happy that we shut down the last three nuclear power plants in Germany on April 15 and were thus able to prevent even more highly radioactive waste from accumulating,” said the Greens politician on Thursday about citizens’ initiatives in front of the site. “I can tell you that this is not a matter of course, but that it has kept me very busy over the past few months.” In some cases, continued operation was demanded with great carelessness and the problems with the non-existent repository were completely ignored.

Barrels full of radioactive waste

In the former mine in the district of Wolfenbüttel there are around 126,000 drums with low-level and medium-level radioactive waste in 13 chambers. The Federal Agency for Disposal (BGE) based in Peine is responsible for the legal mandate to shut down the unstable Asse immediately. For the retrieval of the radioactive waste, there is a plan to set up the interim storage facility in the immediate vicinity. This caused criticism in the affected region and even led to the end of a critical monitoring process.

The minister wanted to visit the site of the mine and also hold talks with regional stakeholders, the Berlin ministry announced in advance. The aim is to get an impression of the work of the operator BGE and to get into conversation with the committed public.

Water enters mine

Even before the minister’s visit, representatives of citizens’ initiatives made it clear that they hoped for a fair comparison of locations. In the past few decades, one has seen several ministers come and go without much happening, said Wiegel. In 2018, for example, the then Lower Saxony Environment Minister Olaf Lies (SPS) spoke of the “most shocking example of misguided industrial policy for the environment” and a “billion-dollar project of central importance”.

The retrieval should be quick because water has been entering the mine every day for years. It is difficult to predict future developments. Waste recovery is expected to start in 2033. Until final storage is clarified, however, the waste must be stored temporarily.

In 2020, the BGE decided to look for a location near the ailing nuclear waste storage facility. However, the BGE has also stated several times that planning will not create irreversible facts. Critics doubt this and speak of a loss of trust.