Investigations of the Gorleben salt dome so far have shown that it is basically suitable as the site of a final repository. In the Nuclear Energy Agreement of 2001, the Federal Government coalition between the SPD and the Green Party made the following statement on this subject, "The knowledge gained to date about an impervious rock system and thus about the salt´s barrier function have been positively confirmed. Therefore, the geological findings obtained so far ... do not conflict with a potential suitability of the Gorleben salt dome."
Nevertheless, the Federal Government coalition between the SPD and the Green Party subsequently investigated further questions regarding final disposal in salt. The corresponding report of the Federal Office for Radiation Protection, known as the "Synthesis Report", from the end of 2005 reaches the conclusion that there are no knock-out points against salt and that a conclusive assessment is only possible by means of a specific underground exploration. Dr. Walter Hohlefelder, President of the German Atomic Forum emphasises, "So if Gabriel and Trittin in a cosy continuation of the SPD/Green Party coalition now doubt the salt dome´s suitability, they are contradicting their own statements. Whether or not the salt dome is suitable, can only be determined once the remaining exploration has been concluded. Therefore the fact remains: The exploration must be brought to a conclusion as quickly as possible and be decided without prejudice on the basis of these investigations.
The Federal Government investigated potential alternatives to the Gorleben salt dome in-depth back at the beginning of the 90s. If, contrary to expectations, Gorleben turns out not to be suitable, these results can be consulted for a further choice of final repository.
The fact that the contracts to the salt rights with the property owners relating to exploration will expire on 31.12.2015 is evidence of the unprejudiced nature of the exploration in Gorleben. By not acquiring the salt rights long-term, the intention was specifically not to create the impression of a preconceived opinion regarding the results of the exploration. In connection with this, Hohlefelder states, "It is absurd, not to mention malicious, that Federal Minister Gabriel, who himself is demanding an unprejudiced selection procedure, should infer from this a political accusation in relation to previous federal governments."
Incidentally, the exploration work can be brought to a conclusion by 31.12.2015 if this is actually what is wanted. According to the Atomic Energy Act, it is the Federal Minister for the Environment´s task to move this forward rather than to throw a spanner in the works over and over again. A glance at the Nuclear Energy Agreement is also helpful here. In it the Federal Government commits to the task of setting up facilities for the final disposal of radioactive materials and states that it will take the necessary measures to provide the required final repository capacities in good time regardless of the phasing out of nuclear energy.
If time is now running short, then the simple reason is that, following submission of the report by the Federal Office for Radiation Protection in 2006, the exploration work was not restarted initially by Federal Minister for the Environment Trittin and later by his successor Gabriel, despite the still valid obligation arising from the Nuclear Energy Agreement.
Federal Minister for the Environment Gabriel has even announced that he does not want the exploration work to be restarted when the moratorium finally expires in 2010. Hohlefelder has this to say on the matter, "It is political hypocrisy and obviously purely due to the election campaign that of all people, it is those responsible for the time delay regarding Gorleben along the lines of ´Stop, thief!´ who are now complaining about time pressure and want to use this to bring about Gorleben´s downfall."
In conclusion, according to the President of the German Atomic Forum, "I can hardly wait to see when Mr Gabriel will switch from daily to hourly press releases about nuclear energy in his election campaign."