The nuclear waste scandal involving leaky drums of "radioactive liquor" at a storage facility in a German salt mine called Asse II keeps growing. Commentators see consequences not just for some federal politicians, but also for Germany's ongoing nuclear debate. It's not enough that 130,000 barrels of radioactive waste are sitting rusted and leaking in a converted Lower Saxony salt mine. But it turns out that the severity of the problem, which this week has developed into a full-blown scandal, has long been known -- and was overlooked by state environment ministers. As early as 2006, researchers mentioned "radioactive liquor" in a report on the Asse II salt mine to state officials, according to a regional newspaper called the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.
The sorry condition of the storage site has become a political scandal in Berlin, where a shake-up in responsibility for the nuclear waste among federal ministers was announced on Thursday. Germany's Social Democratic environment minister, Sigmar Gabriel, has turned the leaching radioactive barrels into a personal crusade -- although he comes from Lower Saxony, and as its former environment minister he might have been expected to keep track of problems at the mine.
But on Thursday Gabriel and a rival minister, Dr. Annette Schavan, a Christian Democrat, announced a sudden re-arrangement. From now on the Federal Office for Radiation Protection, under Gabriel's Environment Ministry, would look after the mine, instead of the now-dissolved Helmholtz Center for Health and Environment -- which stood under Schavan's Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The public drama posed Gabriel in the politically convenient role of a hero, taking over from Schavan, although implications of negligence by the Helmholtz Center were denied by Schavan herself. Newspaper commentators are still absorbing the federal shake-up on Friday morning, and trying to guess what it all means for the (highly politicized) future of Germany nuclear power.
Excerpt from: Nuclear Slop in Leaky Mine Washes over Berlin, Spiegel Online, Sept. 5, 2008