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Nuclear Power

Minister Altmaier rejects atomic waste export report

Germany's environment minister has come out swinging after a newspaper report suggested the government was planning to export nuclear waste. The minister called the story "the greatest nonsense I have ever heard."

Germany's environment minister, Peter Altmaier, has rejected a newspaper report suggesting the country was considering sending its nuclear waste to other countries.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung story came amid continued wrangling over where to store the waste within Germany, but Altmaier said the government was still looking for a home solution.

"That was the greatest nonsense that I have ever heard. There are absolutely no changes in German policies, and most certainly not with me as environment minister," Altmaier said when asked about the Süddeutsche's report on public radio.

"The radioactive waste produced in Germany will also be disposed of in Germany. We are in the process of cross-party talks to enable a nationwide search for a permanent storage facility for nuclear fuel rods."

New EU guidelines on atomic waste storage could make it easier for member states to transport depleted uranium abroad, and the German parliament is due to debate and ratify the bloc-wide changes.

The Environment Ministry said on Friday, however, that these new provisions were designed to help countries with no domestic storage options.

Permanent site still sought

For decades, Germany was eyeing the Lower Saxony town of Gorleben - already a temporary storage facility for German and French waste alike - as a permanent housing site for nuclear waste. Environment Minister Altmaier announced in November that all exploratory work on that site's suitability would be frozen until the September federal elections, and maybe "beyond that point."

After years of cross-party debates and public protests targeting trains bringing the uranium to Gorleben, German political parties agreed last year to start fresh talks. These negotiations were billed as a clean slate; they are not due to start before state elections in Lower Saxony, where Gorleben is located.

Nuclear energy has been a considerable policy headache for Chancellor Merkel since the last federal election. Her government initially stuck to a relatively unpopular campaign pledge to overturn a decision to phase out German nuclear power production. Her coalition pointed to limiting carbon dioxide emissions and controlling energy costs as their rationale for supporting an energy source that's particularly unpopular in Germany.

Days after the major earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear accident at Japan's Fukushima power plant in March 2011, however, Merkel reinstated previous plans to stop German nuclear power production.

The current scheduled date for a complete German shutdown is 2022, but storage of existing waste will remain an issue almost indefinitely, with some spent nuclear fuel remaining radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years.

msh/tm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)