German experience: Nuclear waste problems

Posted on November 2, 2010. Filed under: Energy | So, Malaysia is thinking of having its very own nuclear power plants. Never mind that nuclear power is neither sustainable, renewable nor cheap.

Never mind if Malaysia already has abundant power supply or that its power supply could be sustainably be met by other renewable energy sources.

Never mind that the expertise is lacking, the security/maintenance culture not there.

Never mind that Malaysia has unscrupulous, inexperienced contractors that seem to get hold of many of the construction contracts. Never mind that roofs of many new buildings have collapsed or are leaking.

However, I would like to point this out: Whoever produces nuclear energy, must also be responsible for the disposal of highly radioactive nuclear waste.

Preparation for several worst case scenarios should be done in the risk analysis for storage of radioactive wastes.

However, in several western countries using nuclear energy for many years already, this have not been achieved either.

Specifically, let us take Germany as a brief case study. Although Germany is using nuclear energy from nuclear power plants (albeit in dwindling number), up till now, there is no nuclear waste disposal/storage for the highly radioactive wastes!

Already there have been catastrophes such as in the Asse, Germany’s largest environmental problem.

From the beginning, the Asse was already questioned as an unsuitable location for low- and medium-radioactive nuclear wastes storage but these warnings were not heeded.

Water that enters the Asse saltworks where radioactive materials were stored, contaminate the groundwater or other resources. See Atommüllager Asse – Zeitbombe in der Tiefe – ZDF (1/2).

The German authorities decided to relocate the radioactive wastes from Asse, costing billions of Euro. The previous and new storage areas must also be under tight security control which also carries a high cost. Who says nuclear energy is cheap?

In the 70s, the CDU leader of the then-West Germany, Ernst Albrecht, made a political decision that a high radioactive nuclear wastes storage facility will be built in the saltworks deep beneath the town of Gorleben in northern Germany.

Despite the recommendations from scientific/ geological experts that porous saltwork is not a stable location for such dangerous materials, Albrecht made this political decision as Gorleben was near the boundary to the then-East Germany as well as far away from CDU electoral stronghold in the south. ( Ironically, Chezkolovakia in 2009 announced that it will build a nuclear waste storage area near the boundary to south Germany!).

Today, the current CDU-FDP government headed by Angela Merkel still highly supports the use of nuclear energy but CDU politicians continue to refuse nuclear disposal or storage areas located in their electoral strongholds such as in Bayern, south Germany.

Mainly because the Bavarian people who elected them there would strongly oppose the nuclear waste storage sites in their areas, and CDU would lose votes and seats in government!

About ten years ago, the environment minister from the Green Party set a 10-year moratorium on the choice of Gorleben as a high radioactive nuclear disposal site.

The moment the moratorium lapsed, the CDU decided to revive Gorleben as THE place for high radioactive waste storage.

Many demonstrations by das volk (the people) ensued and are still happening. For example, 100,000 people marched in Berlin against nuclear energy recently on Sept 18.

Up to now, there is no disposal area for highly radioactive wastes in Germany.

In Malaysia, it would be difficult to find a secure site for highly radioactive wastes, especially when Malaysia is located near the Ring of Fire where earthquakes from nearby Indonesia can be felt!

Nuclear energy has its political ramifications. A recent poll shows that support for CDU has rapidly dwindled, while support for the Green Party and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) has increased tremendously.

Let’s learn from the nuclear chaos that haunts Germany till today that may well spell the downfall of the Merkel-led government in the upcoming election – for not listening to the voices of the people.

Energy sans nuclear!


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