Car c'est vraiment, Seigneur, le meilleur témoignage
Que nous puissions donner de notre dignité
Que cet ardent sanglot qui roule d'âge en âge
Et vient mourir au bord de votre éternité!

For truly, Lord, the clearest proofs
that we can give of our dignity
are these impassioned cries
that roll from age to age
and will eventually descend
upon the shore of your eternity

Ch. Baudelair:
"Les phares" aus "Les fleurs du mal"


No doubt we love our "sculpture walls", particularly now with snow on them. Our disorderly attic (simulataneously library, bedroom and construction material storage) has no heat insulation, and therefore we redesigned its entrance: It's now from the outside, so we don't loose heat any longer through a staircase in our hallway leading up to it. The wall in the fourth photograph will be part of a design to come.
The glass house is now completely covered with glass at last. The photograph on the right shows the glass hpuse entrance. Once we've embedded water pipes in the glass house floor, the sun-heated water will be circulated into our brick house, through pipes in walls and floors for saving LPG.

BarTischth.jpg OstgiebelsSth.jpg Ostwendelth.jpg NordCorbuth.jpg Eingang zum Glashaus

(click on thumbnails to enlarge pictures. impressions from 2008, Karen Ande's visit, video slide show with Edvard Elgar's cello concerto, 2006)

What else seemed important to us in 2010?

A. Early in 2010 we heared a call for help on the radio: Stefan Wenzel (chairman, Niedersachsen's Bündnis 90/Die Grünen -the Green Party of the country around Hannover-, and member, Asse board of inquiry of the local parliament of the land of Niedersachsen) asked for more information than he had found at that time. Some months later on a demonstration against nuclear power Stefanie Vogelsang (CDU, Member of the Federal Parliament) spoke. And in her speech she asked for more in depth information than what she could find in the newspapers because she had to vote on whether or not our 17 nuclear power reactors should continue to operate longer than agreed on under previous administrations.

This was the point in time when we started to intensify and focus our discussions about this issue.

Background: In the 1970s I (J) had coordinated PSE (Projekt Sicherheitsstudien Entsorgung), a project on the safe disposal of rad(ioactive )waste, funded by the social-liberal Schmidt-Genscher Administration. Without any prior discussions all of a sudden the Gorleben salt dome was to be Germany's radwaste repository. Without a safe repository, our Social Democrats had assured, nuclear power would be discontinued. In the PSE meetings the degree of scientific and technical ignorance was frightening, and after all these years during which I (J) have worked on and we've discussed the subject geo-science's lack of knowledge still frightens us.

What kind of advice could we offer in Hannover and Berlin?

  1. Consulting politicians on disposal of high-level nuclear waste (HLW)

    Long-term isolation hinges on geochemical processes. In spite of decades of research we still are not able to adequately understand and model the nonlinear dynamics of the geological/geochemical system. It creates self-organized structures in space and time still beyond the control of the models and concepts used by the Gesellschaft für Anlagen- und Reaktorsicherheit (GRS) (company for plant construction and nuclear reactor safety) and the AkEnd. Examples are periodic breaches of the repository barriers or traveling contaminant waves forming secondary HLW repositories the location of which we cannot predict.

  2. Transparency, civic engagement and protection of whistleblowers: necessary means against bias in science

    A comprehensive information technology (IT) based opening into the professional as well as into the general public has been accomplished in parts of science and politics and can be readily carried over into the geosciences. The benefits are almost unpredictable.
    German civil laws do not permit to hold geoscientists, technicians and the overlying administrative structure liable for their misjudgements. Opening this culture into social media or the use of crowdsourcing in Germany might provide efficient checks. We should demand here a similar opening as Obama did for government.

By clicking here you can jump over the next 2 boxes with details on issues 1 and 2, and go straight to the end.

1. Giving advice on issues of radioactive waste isolation: visits and a written survey

Summary of the survey (the text had to be in German, but the cited international literature is in English):
Research still cannot tell what a safe high level radioactive waste (HLW) disposal site has to look like. Safety guarantees like the ones we are used to obtain from modern industry cannot be given, particularly not in Germany with its large knowledge deficits in geochemistry.


In a scientific-technological area with serious uncertainties statements can only be made

  • (a) if the problem at hand has successfully been dealt with in the past, or
  • (b) on the basis of a consensus in the scientific community.

Good examples are

  1. the DIN (Deutsches Institut für Normung) standards,
  2. an assiduously defined and tested system of responsibilities and liability in industry,
  3. an Information Technology (IT)-based complete transparency for and participation of all interested experts such as practiced


Our reasoning why research and development on HLW disposal cannot yet provide a safe repositoy.

  • Neither a nor b is met:

    (a) The geological/geochemical system that isolates HLW develops a nonlinear dynamics, meaning that the system may abruptly change its behavior. Boxes 2, 7 & 8, 9 in the British Committee on Radioactive Waste Management Report in cache) give an impression of the extent of unsolved problems, particularly in geochemistry, which compound the problems originating from nonlinear dynamics (GDF in the boxes stands for Geological Disposal Facility).

    Therefore, beyond our rather limited time horizon (inherent also in our models) lies principally unknown territory. This will be demonstrated below by two examples, a periodic breach of isolation and the generation of a secondary HLW repository.

    (b) An approach similar to the one the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) chose has not been attempted, meaning an interdisciplinary consensus on the choice of models. This is particularly true for the safety criteria formulated by the Arbeitskreis "Auswahlverfahren Endlagerstandorte" (study group on the selection process of disposal sites).

  • The safety standards of the DIN and its related quality guarantees are by no means met.
  • 2. und 3. are not met: An IT-based transparency (example) is still missing, and German geo-research has not yet succeeded in including all relevant areas of expertise (examples).
  • We examined the publications of 2 major German organizations/committees,
    1. the Gesellschaft für Anlagen- und Reaktorsicherheit, which will in the near future report to the German federal government on the safety of rad(ioactive)waste disposal in the Gorleben salt dome, and
    2. the Arbeitskreis "Auswahlverfahren Endlagerstandorte" (lit.: committee on selection processes for radwast disposal sites), which drew up criteria for the selection of repository sites in 2002.

    Both institutions present a geochemical understanding that appears (to us) outdated by 2 - 3 decades with concommittant substantial misjudgements about repository safety.

    The point is that considerable simplifications and approximations are always necessary. But the nonlinearities of the system make it extremely hard to decide on the choice of simplifications. Below we will demonstrate the severity of this problem: We will show 2 examples in which radionuclide isolation is actually breached, but the simplified German models miss that breakdown of the barrier.

  • The more the German repository research catches up on the American, the deeper it will get into the serious problems which the peculiar dynamics of the nonlinear geological/geochemical self-organizing system holds in store.

    We think it is very well possible that the self-organization needs a new description, a new paradigm. If so, the present geosciences would principally be unable to design a safe repository, and the catastrophe in the Asse salt mine was no accident but a symptom.

"Trust us nuclear experts
as you trust
your financial experts"
Vertrauen Sie uns Nuklearexperten wie Ihren Finanzexperten
Source: Heinz Eckel
"Endlagersuche gestartet", 28.8.2009

(Themen: Atom - Ökologie)

Examples of the problems ahead: oscillations in time and space
With its nonlinear dynamics the geological/geochemical barrier around the HLW is far from predictably stable.

This refers to the point made above: When models (like the recent GRS model) ignore geochemical-geomechanical feedbacks (see example 1) or the possibility of geochemical complex formation ("speciation", example 2), they miss ways of radwaste isolation breakdown.

1. Periodic breach of a geological/geochemical barrier

P. Ortoleva (2002), Basin Reaction Transport Mechanical Model

A barrier in 2500 m depth disappears periodically.

Schematic cross section through a geological formation:
y-axis: vertical extension of the formation, i.e. upper boundary is depth 0, lower boundary is depth 3000 m. Horizontally the formation extends along the x-axis. Rock permeability is represented by the degree of blackening (black = lowest permeability).

The formation is bordered by two barriers. One is located in the upper 500 m (black area at the top), the other has an initial thickness of 250 m and lies below 2500 m (black area at the bottom). This barrier is being periodically opened by forces from below (in the animation on the left its thickness is oscillating, cached Flash Video, 1 MB).

These are open questions, as far as we can see:

  1. Gas in and under the Gorleben salt dome (Greenpeace publication, December 2, 2010 Gorleben visit of Umweltminister Norbert Röttgen, in cache) can open the geological barrier in a similar fashion. Which other forces or processes could do something of this kind?
  2. When a barrier opens and closes periodically in centuries, how can we find that out in the short time window in which we explore a formation?

2. A radionuclide plume develops into a shock wave. Neither the speed nor the range of this wave can be predicted over centuries.

J. Gruber, 1988, 1990

The radionuclide concentration in leakages from the repository (the "radionuclide plume") can increase with distance from the repository. Shown here is how a secondary radiostrontium repository forms:

x-axis: cells (pores) of the initially homogeneous plume in the host rock (tuff). y-axis: pH, strontium concentration (units: 10-7 mol per liter of system volume) in solution (Srl) and on the tuff surfaces (Srs).

Time step 0 shows the plume before water with a new chemical composition enters. On its way through the plume the front of this water accumulates strontium inventory -like a snow plough piles up snow- such that a continuously increasing steep strontium wave ("shock") develops. Since we cannot predict the geochemical compositions centuries in the future, we cannot predict how much of the inventory might enter the biosphere.

2. Transparency and Civic Engagement -implemented as part of the core business- and whistleblower protection are mandatory steps toward improving geoscience.

In the framework of our political consulting we proposed to follow the example of Obama's "Open Government", "Open Data" intiatives and to amend our Atomic Energy Act (as well as environmental protection laws) by a whistleblower protection to check the present bias of our HLW repository research.


  • As a consequence of my (J) visit in Hannover Stefan Wenzel demanded that all public Asse files be made freely available on the internet.
  • The US Whitehouse discusses issues also in blogs. We have tried to do something similar for the disaster in the Asse salt mine by turning the Hannover Green Party's Asse interim report into a blog.

1. Open Government - Open Data

2. Whistleblower protection

The legal system in the USA

For the Jazz-lover (thank you, Jeff, for the hint).

For the "classics"-lover: Sergej Rachmaninov's Piano Trio, which he wrote at the age of 19. (thank you, Eva und Hans).

Version: March 4, 2011

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Jochen Gruber