Revocation of Permit for Nuclear Interim Storage Site Brunsbüttel Binding – State will Tolerate Operation until 2018

The Federal Administrative Court (BVerwG) has rejected an appeal by the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) against an earlier judgement that revoked the permit for the nuclear interim storage site in Brunsbüttel, Schleswig-Holstein. The revocation is therefore legally binding. However, due to a decision issued by Energy Minister Dr. Robert Habeck of Schleswig-Holstein, the operation of the interim storage site will be tolerated until the beginning auf 2018.

1. Decision by BVerwG

The judgement by BVerwG has not been published yet, nor does a press release by the court exist. Therefore, the information below on the BVerwG decision is largely based on initial  summary information from the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) and the Schleswig-Holstein state Ministry for Energy Turnaround, Agriculture, Environment and Rural Areas.

In 2013 the Higher Administrative Court of Schleswig (OVG Schleswig) had revoked the permit for the nuclear interim storage site in Brunsbüttel, saying BfS (the permitting authority) had not properly established and therefore evaluated the risks of terrorist attacks against the storage site, in particular by plane crashes of Airbus 380 planes and the use of anti-tank weapons. Only older anti-tank weapons had been examined. According to the press release by the State of Schleswig-Holstein, BVerwG did not investigate the facts itself but only assessed the proper application of procedural and material law. In its decision, it did not find fault with the reasoning by OVG Schleswig-Holstein with respect to anti-tank weapons.

Federal Minister for Nuclear Safety, Barbara Hendricks pointed out that neither the OVG Schleswig-Holstein nor the BVerwG judgement had found an actual lack of safety at the Brunsbüttel storage site. The judgement were made because of a perceived lack of the depth of investigation by BfS regarding the safety against terrorist attacks (and anti-tank weapons). BfS had argued in the proceedings to have properly considered all aspects in the permitting procedure, however, BfS was unable to submit all the documents as some of the documents were confidential in view of protection from terrorist attacks, Mrs Hendricks said.

2. Decision by Schleswig-Holstein to Tolerate Operation of Brunsbüttel until 2018

There was no other permitted interim storage site in which nuclear waste could be stored in a safer way than in the Brunsbüttel site, Energy Minister Robert Habeck of Schlewig-Holstein said. He issued a decision to tolerate the operation until the beginning of 2018. Currently 9 castor storage containers are being stored in Brunsbüttel, a press release says.

3. New Permit Application Necessary

Minister Hendricks assumed that Vattenfall, the operator of the Brunsbüttel storage site, would promptly apply for a new permit, Federal Minister Hendricks said, pointing out that BfS would take into account the judgement. She also added that she had ordered a legal examination into how confidential documents could be used in administrative court proceedings while maintaining confidentiality.

4. General Comments

This latest BVerwG decision has surely made the storage of nuclear waste, a highly controversial topic in Germany, not easier.

The search for a permanent German nuclear storage site is still at its beginning. In mid-2013 a Nuclear “Location Search Act” was adopted by Parliament and entered into force shortly after (partly also in 1 January 2014). At the moment, a committee is in the process of preparing the procedure for selecting a permanent site. It shall put forward proposals for safety requirements by late 2015. The decision concerning the individual steps in the selection procedure will then be taken by Parliament and will surely be controversial again. Until the search has been successfully completed, nuclear waste therefore has to be stored in interim storage sites. Besides 26 Castor containers have to be taken back from abroad and stored in Germany. Yet it was agreed not to store them in the controversial Gorleben site anymore (for more information, please see here).

Source: Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety; State of Schleswig-Holstein

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