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Costly Cleanup at Closed Nuclear Plant

December 23, 1991

GREIFSWALD, Germany (AP) _ The huge nuclear power plant on the misty Baltic coast, once the pride of Soviet and East German technology, has been shut down as a potential catastrophe and will cost billions of dollars to clean up.

Germany plans to spend at least $2.5 billion to remove the eight reactors that loom in the pine forest at the end of a long road outside this town in northeastern Germany. It will spend $125 million more on an interim storage facility for 700 tons of radioactive fuel.

If the German solution were applied to Soviet-designed reactors in less prosperous countries, lights would go out in much of Eastern Europe. Billions of dollars in aid would be needed to demolish the plants and create new energy supplies.

East Germany got 10 percent of its electricity from the four original 440- megawatt, pressurized-water reactors at Greifswald. The four newer reactors never went into operation because of safety concerns raised after the Germanys united last year.

Herbert Schattke, head of reactor safety for the Mecklenburg-Lower Pomerania state government, sees a silver lining in the decade or more of work ahead at Greifswald.

″The decommissioning will be unique in the world,″ he said in an interview. ″No one has ever decomissioned such a large plant. We will gain special knowledge that can be applied abroad.″

Greifswald also is helping in other ways: Some of its equipment has been sent to Bulgaria in hopes of raising safety standards at a plant of the same type. Two Bulgarian reactors were turned off earlier this year after international inspectors found they were dangerously unsafe.

Anti-nuclear activists, while glad Greifswald has been closed, are suspicious of a government statement that the interim storage facility will hold only fuel from the one plant.

″They really want it to be a big storage place, for the whole country,″ said Rosmarie Poldrack, a microbiologist who began asking questions about the plant before the Communist government of East Germany collapsed two years ago.

″Interim storage really means final storage, because there is no final storage yet for such nuclear wastes,″ she said. ″It will give this region a bad name. We live here off tourism, and no one will come to be near nuclear wastes.″

Authorities closed Greifswald soon after East and West Germany were united in October 1990.

By West German standards, the plant was catastrophe-prone. The first of four new reactors was about to start up, but had failed its 1989 test run. At least one close-call accident had occurred in the original reactors.

Environment Minister Klaus Toepfer said the eight reactors could not be sufficiently upgraded to get an operating license. They had many deficiencies in safety design, no reinforced-concrete buildings to contain radiation in the event of an accident and inadequate protection against earthquake or airplane crash.

″The worst thing is that the turbines are positioned so that, if they broke, the flying blades could damage the reactors,″ said Schattke, the state safety director.

The question now is what to do with a milelong row of eight atomic reactors, five still loaded with nuclear fuel.

Schattke said the plant will be taken apart and the area monitored for radiation. Perhaps in 20 years, another nuclear power plant could be built on the site, he said.

One reason for dealing thoroughly with Greifswald is to restore public confidence in nuclear power, Schattke said. Nuclear plants provided 28 percent of Germany’s electricity in 1990, but public opposition has halted the building of new ones.

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