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By Trinity Hartman,
Deutsche Welle,
16 October 2009

Anti-nuclear group criticizes German waste shipments to Russia

In the wake of a French investigation into reports that nuclear waste is sent from French plants to Siberia, news has emerged that Germany has a long tradition of shipping toxic waste to Russia.

The German anti-nuclear group "Ausgestrahlt" said that since 1996, Germany`s only uranium enrichment plant in Gronau has shipped about 22,000 tons of uranium hexafluoride, which is a compound used in the uranium enrichment process, to Russia.

"Ausgestrahlt" reported on Wednesday that only 10 percent of that was returned to Germany as enriched uranium. The anti-nuclear activists said the remaining 90 percent was stored in Siberia, outdoors and in rusting containers. Uranium hexafluoride is highly toxic and corrosive to most metals.

URENCO, the uranium-processing firm that runs the Gronau enrichment facility, confirmed that it has shipped more than 27,000 tons of depleted uranium to Russia`s state-run firm Tenex since 1996. About 10 to 15 percent of the material was treated and returned to Germany. URENCO says it has meanwhile terminated cooperation with the Russian company.

Government accused of "nuclear waste tourism"

Following an inquiry by the Left party, the government had already publicly acknowledged the exports in 2007.

Juergen Maass, a spokesman for the environment ministry in Berlin, on Wednesday confirmed the shipments of depleted uranium to Russia. He emphasized that the shipments, although they did contain nuclear waste, were not illegal. The Federal Office for Radiation Protection has said the exports were not subject to approval under the Atomic Energy Act.

Opposition parties have renewed criticism of the German government`s policy of exporting nuclear waste.

Eva Bulling-Schroeter, environmental spokeswoman for the Left party, called for an end to such shipments: "It is time the government stopped trivializing nuclear waste tourism."

Permanent storage of nuclear waste is not only an unsolved problem and a controversial issue in Germany, as it does elsewhere in Europe. In France this week, an Arte television documentary and the newspaper Liberation said that more than 100 tons of depleted uranium from French power plants have been stored in an open-air complex in Siberia.

Furthermore, according to an Italian environmental organization, at least two dozen ships containing radioactive waste have been sunk in the Ionion Sea off southern Italy in order to bypass local laws.


Editor: Trinity Hartman

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