The German Perspective Of The Saga
DSIN informs the German Ministry for Environment and Reactor Safety,
officially for the first time, on the evening of 23 April 1998 about
the contaminated transport problem. What the exact information is, is
unclear. Why the German ministry is informed at the same time as French
ministry is also an enigma. The first written information is supplied
by fax on the morning of 24 April from Paris to Bonn. And as in France,
it takes the German ministry one week to publish a press release on
30 April 1998 which only informs us that "radioactive spots above the
limits stipulated by the transport regulation were identified by COGEMA
on the floor of rail cars with transport casks for spent fuel". And
further, "according to DSIN, surface contamination has also been detected
in the case of certain shipments from German nuclear power plants".
This is the same type of language as in the DSIN press release issued
the same day, no figures, no background information.
On 12 May 1998, officials of the German Environment Ministry meet with
representatives of DSIN in Paris. Detailed figures on the shipments
carried out in 1997 and 1998 are transmitted to the German officials.
The numbers are extremely high, as the Ministry explains in a press
release dated 14 May 1998: "In 1997, 55 shipments were carried out from
German nuclear power plants to COGEMA. In eleven cases concerning six
German power plants (Isar, Phillipsburg, Grohnde, Grafenrheinfeld, Brunsbüttel
and Stade) increased contamination levels were noted. In six cases so-called
'hot-spots' of a surface size of a coin with maximum activities of up
to 13,400 Bq have been measured on rail cars at locations which are
not accessible during transport. In five cases, on the floor of the
recovery pan of the rail cars (surfaces of about 300 cm2) with maximum
contaminations of up to 13,000 Bq/cm2 have been identified." Such a
surface adds up to about 4,000,000 Bq! In 1998, two more cases of contaminations
of the rail car floor up to 10,000 Bq/cm2 have been noted (see figures
of the month for details).
When Lacoste, on 13 May 1998 presents his report to the press, he states
that the maximum level identified is 8,000 Bq/cm2, "a completely singular
point which must correspond to a particle. The following point must
be at 1,500 Bq/cm2". Lacoste declares this 24 hours after having transmitted
to the German officials data which indicates that this level was neither
a maximum nor as exceptional as he indicates. The fact that the higher
levels were identified on rail cars which came in from German plants
is hardly a convincing explanation. All of these values have been measured
at the Valognes site in France. The German Ministry surprisingly "shares
the opinion of the French safety authority DSIN that the partially significant
transgression of the limit of 4 Bq/cm2 did not have any consequences
to public health". However, this judgement is based only on the assumption
that the contamination would not be accessible to the public during
the transport. Given the fact that it is the question of non-fixed contamination
and particles, and taking into account that the air circulation around
the spent fuel casks is designed to allow for an optimum heat evacuation
from the rail car, there is no guarantee whatsoever that the contamination
has not reached the outside. In fact, a significant share (10 out of
44 or 22%) of rail cars coming into Valognes from French plants have
been contaminated from the outside as well. It is rather probable that
no outside contamination has been detected by coincidence, in other
words, given the small number of samples per rail car (17), it is more
likely that many contaminated spots simply have not been identified.
Nevertheless, the German Minister Angela Merkel prohibits any further
transports first to La Hague, and within a week forbids transports to
Sellafield and to the intermediate storage facilities at Ahaus and Gorleben
until the inquiry into the circumstances is complete.
On 19 May 1998, the German Federal Ministry meets with its Länder counterparts.
It becomes clear that in several cases spent fuel transports from German
power plants have also been identified contaminated in the UK Sellafield
plant. The following day a hearing of top level utility representatives,
the transport companies Nuclear Cargo + Service as well as NTL (Nukleare
Transportleistung), officials from various ministries, the Federal Radiation
Protection Office and others takes place in the Environment Ministry.
Coming out of the meeting, Minister Merkel is visibly furious. During
the hearing the utilities admit that they have known of the problem
since the middle of the 1980s without informing the authorities. Merkel
stresses in a press release that "this attitude has been sharply criticized
by the Environment- and Transport Ministries". The utilities are informed
that all the spent fuel transports are suspended until further notice.
Merkel notes further that "information has not been supplied by the
authorities in France for reasons which are not to be evaluated by the
Federal Environment Ministry".
Whereas it is still unclear when the french utility EDF was first informed
by COGEMA of the contamination problem and hardly any information has
been published, the evidence that German utilities have been aware of
the problem for a long time is now on the table. The operators of power
plants in Lower Saxony, for example, were perfectly aware of the problem
for 15 years:
- between 1984 and 1989, at least 8 shipments from the Unterweser
power plant had been found contaminated at Valognes, containers between
7.4 Bq/cm2 and 74 Bq/cm2 and rail cars between 14.8 Bq/cm2 and 7,400
Bq/cm2, already almost 2,000 times the limit
- in 1990, 3 railcars from Grohnde were identified contaminated up
to 3,700 Bq/cm2
- between 1991 and 1996, 12 shipments (9 casks and 4 rail cars) from
the Stade plant were found contaminated respectively between 10-150
Bq/cm2 for casks and 30 to 3,000 Bq/cm2 for rail cars.
The general outcry about the cover-up has been significantly more intense
in Germany than in France. The police trade union speaker Konrad Freiberg
calls the nuclear industry a "cartel of liars" which "has driven democracy
against the wall". The pressure on Merkel is enormous. She basically
has no way out: either her administration has known about the contamination
without making it public; or the monitoring and control over the sector
is so inefficient that her civil servants did not know.
On 27 May 1998, Merkel appears before the Environment Committee of
the Bundestag and presents a 25 page report plus several hundred pages
of data on contamination level measurements. The report recognises that
the surface contamination limits have been determined for public health
reasons and are derived from recommendations of the IAEA (International
Atomic Energy Agency): "The limits are precautionary values, which have
been laid down for the limitation of radioactivity in particular at
accessible, touchable surfaces for the protection of people who handle
packages on a daily working basis." DSIN's Lacoste after having pretended
first that the limits correspond to the lowest measurable levels (which
is technically wrong) continues in wonderful harmony with the operators
EDF and COGEMA to use the terminology of "cleanliness values".
Merkel's report is a document of accusation against the electricity
utilities. It notes that the Federal Rail Office (EBA) has initiated
legal inquiries into the responsibilities of all companies involved.
The Minister does not rule out legal repercussions.
The same day, the Green Group in Parliament introduces a proposal for
a resolution which calls on Minister Merkel to resign and to withdraw
from the transport operators the recognition of reliability (a precondition
to obtaining an operating license according to the German Nuclear Law).
The Greens ask for reprocessing to be banned and for the introduction
of a nuclear phase-out plan. On 3 June 1998, the State Environment Office
in Darmstadt informs the Hessian Ministry of Environment that it has
identified in the grounds of the public rail station in Darmstadt a
hot spot on a COGEMA truck spent fuel rack of 50,000 Bq. That is the
highest level identified so far but most likely not the maximum out