France-bound German nuclear waste found contaminated

November 26, 2001
Reuters news service

FRANKFURT - German authorities said late last week they had discovered contamination emanating from a nuclear waste transport container at the Stade nuclear plant. But an environment ministry official last week said this was an isolated case discovered thanks to stricter safety regulations put in place since last year on lifting of a ban on nuclear waste transport, which had been imposed in 1998.

"The container, which was one of several destined for French reprocessing site La Hague, was screened and radiation levels significantly above the allowed maximum were found," the official in the Berlin ministry's department for nuclear transport told Reuters.

"The shippers of the container are now required to deal with the problem so that they can be given approval to carry out the transport," he added. The transport, originally planned for December, had been temporarily put on hold, the ministry's statement had said.

"The environment ministry will ensure that the shipment of the container....can only be carried out if there is total proof that it is free of contamination," it said. The official said the finding showed that strict rules on the necessary screening methods were being applied and working. Once satisfied that the container had been cleaned, the shipment could be given clearance.

Nuclear transports from German nuclear reactor sites were banned in 1998 after a safety scare over radiation leaks from containers during transport.

It was lifted last year amid commitments by the nuclear industry to gradually phase out atomic energy by the mid-2020s and because stricter safety regulations were agreed. Germany's 19 nuclear plants have no reprocessing facilities of their own, and must get rid of containers full of spent fuel elements, which they were forced to store on-site during the ban.

Anti-nuclear protestors, citing safety risks, keep disrupting waste transports in order to achieve an earlier withdrawal.

The maximum permissible radition level is four bequerel per square centimetre. Utility E.ON, operator of the 640 megawatt (MW) Stade plant in the northern

German Lower Saxony state, was not immediately available to comment.