TÜV finds rusted nuclear waste barrels

Thursday, March 8, 2012

At a time when Germany's solar industry is suffering from weakened political support, the Technical Inspection Association, TÜV, has uncovered rusted radioactive waste barrels in the already inoperative Brunsbüttel nuclear plant in northern Germany.

The nuclear power plant, which was shut down last year has an underground storage of approximately 500 barrels of low and intermediate levels of radioactive waste from the reactors. In order to move the waste to end-disposal point, Schacht Konrad repository in Lower Saxony, the material has to be transferred to cast iron containers. Amidst this process, TÜV North made the discovery of rusted barrels.

Minister of Justice, Equality and Integration Emil Schmalfuß has stopped the transfer operations for the moment. Schmalfuß emphasized that it is critical to check that no radioactive materials have been released and there is no danger to staff or to the residents of the area.

Nuclear waste has been stored in the underground storage in barrels since September 13, 1981, and there have been no reports of abnormalities reported thus far. During a routine control in January this year, TÜV proofers discovered severe corrosion in a barrel. Subsequently, the authorities have discovered more such barrels.

Schmalfuß has criticised the operator Vattenfall. He stated that Vattenfall should have gauged the significance of the situation and should have reported to the appropriate authorities on the status of the radioactive waste containing barrels. Vattenfall did admit in mid-December last year that there was damage to barrel hulls, but only reported it to the ministry in Kiel on January, 11, 2012. Vattenfall has admitted on its website that such a delay was indeed unacceptable.

Post-Fukushima, Germany has made plans to stop operations at older nuclear power plants, Vattenfall operated Brunsbüttel being one of them.

A piece of good news: The nuclear power plant in Mühleberg, Switzerland will only be active up to June 2013, after which it will be shut down. The Swiss authorities had made the decision to keep the plant running without a set deadline. An appeal by the residents in the region overturned this decision and the date has now been set to cease operations at the 40 year old plant.

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