Germany halts plan to transport spent N-fuel rods to Russia

Germany has halted a controversial plan to transport highly radioactive reactor fuel rods to Russia for reprocessing and storage of nuclear waste following strong protests from environmental groups and opposition parties.

Updated: Dec 07, 2010, 14:49 PM IST

Berlin: Germany has halted a controversial
plan to transport highly radioactive reactor fuel rods to
Russia for reprocessing and storage of nuclear waste following
strong protests from environmental groups and opposition
parties.

German Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen said that
951 spent fuel rods from an experimental reactor in former
East Germany will remain at the present storage facility in
Ahaus until further notice because safe reprocessing cannot be
guaranteed at the Mayak nuclear facility in Russia.

The nuclear fuel reprocessing and storage plant at Mayak
in the Urals is not operating at present and therefore its
safety cannot be established, he told reporters in Bonn
yesterday.

The Federal Office for Protection Against Radiation had
already approved the plan to ship the fuel rods in 18
containers from a Baltic Sea port to Russia. The fuel rods
were supplied by the former Soviet Union for the experimental
reactor at Rossendorf, near Dresden.

Following the German reunification 20 years ago, the
state government of Saxony dismantled the spent fuel rods from
the reactor and sent them to the Ahaus nuclear waste storage
facility in the state of North Rhine Westphalia.

Russia had expressed its readiness to reprocess the spent
fuel and store the waste at its facility under an
inter-governmental agreement signed recently.

However, Russian environmental groups and scientists had
warned against sending the radioactive material to Russia
saying that the Mayak plant, which was one of the oldest
nuclear research centres in the former Soviet Union, is very
unsafe for reprocessing and storage of waste.
Russian environmental organisations and anti-nuclear
activists had in a letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel, urged
her not to send the fuel rods to the Mayak plant, which had a
series of accidents since the 1950s and is now one of the most
radioactive contaminated places in the world.

Germany`s anti-nuclear Green party claimed that the
decision to stop the nuclear shipment to Russia was the result
of its campaign against the export.

Greenpeace also welcomed the decision and said it would
have been "irresponsible" to send a nuclear transport to an
"ecologically catastrophic region."

The Mayak plant was one of the centres of the ex-Soviet
Union`s nuclear weapons programme and it was kept secret for
more than 30 years. A series of accidents in the plant led to
the radioactive contamination of a large territory in the Ural
region.
It is estimated that over half a million people have been
irradiated and some of them were exposed to 20 times more
radiation levels than during the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

PTI