I have just received a phone call from my parents who live in Lower Saxony in Northern Germany. They have been retired for a few years now and seem to fill their newly gained spare time with an energetic exploration of the world. Not only do they try to travel to ‘historic sites’ as much as they can, but they also try to find out about things they have encountered in their life but never had a chance to fully explore them. To my surprise, their latest exploration consisted of a visit to the local exploration mine for nuclear waste storage.
The background to this is that my dad used to be a policeman. And like a lot of police men in Lower Saxony, he was involved in the protection of the nuclear waste transports in the area. This was – and still is – an extremely controversial topic back home. At school, a lot of my friends were involved in demonstrations against those transports and sometimes ended up in police custody. My dad was ‘on the other side of the fence’ with his colleagues, some of which had doubts regarding nuclear power, too (like the friends from school who now also have jobs ‘on the other side’). As the storage facilities are not very far from our hometown, he one day decided that he wanted to ‘know what really goes on there’ and organised a trip to Gorleben with his friends from the sports club. My mother was curious, too, so she went along as well.
As they told me on the phone, the visit was very exciting (‘we got to dress up in red overalls with the miners’ lamps’), informative (thanks to ‘a young friendly nuclear scientist’) and was made even more pleasant by good catering (‘they had anything you wanted and all very nice’) and art installations. They seemed baffled by a lot of the comparisons that the scientists made with naturally occurring radiation (‘apparently you are subject to more radiation on a transatlantic flight’) and by the elaborate crash tests the nuclear waste containers had undergone to meet the needed requirements (it was slightly surreal to hear my parents talk about ‘neutron bombardment’ during one of our peaceful Sunday afternoon chats).
I wonder how this newly gained knowledge fits in with our visit to the local salt museum a few months earlier. In this museum, there is a display is about collapsing salt mines and the unpredictability of geological features people tend to perceive as ‘fixed’. The exploratory mine in Gorleben is actually a salt mine, and I remember my dad saying after reading the blurb accompanying the exhibit: ‘and they want to store nuclear waste in a salt mine of all places??’ I am curious how their opinion and image of ‘radioactive matter’ develops … and I hope they send pictures of their ‘action man’ outfits.
Postscript: They did!