Anti-nuclear opinion powers German Greens to record support


Germany's opposition Green party has soared to a record 22-percent support, according to a poll published Wednesday, thanks in part to public ire over Chancellor Angela Merkel's nuclear energy plans.

The survey by the independent research group Forsa showed the Greens gaining one point over last week to come within reach of Germany's main opposition party, the Social Democrats (SPD), which tallied 24 percent, down one point.

The Greens, born 30 years ago out of the environmentalist movement, fiercely oppose the centre-right government's scheme to extend the life of Germany's atomic energy plants by several years, unveiled this month.

While in power with the SPD between 1998 and 2005, the Greens successfully championed legislation that would have mothballed all 17 of the country's nuclear reactors by around 2020.

The Greens scored 10.7 percent at the last general election a year ago, which saw the conservative Merkel re-elected and able to form a coalition with her partner of choice, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP).

In the Forsa poll, Merkel's Christian Union bloc dropped one point to 30 percent, the FDP remained steady at five percent and the far-left Linke reached 11 percent, down one point.

"The Linke looks pale, the (Christian) Union is adrift and the SPD still lacks a clear profile," said political scientist Gero Neugebauer of Berlin's Free University, explaining the Greens' relative strength.

Merkel's government has seen its support plummet in recent months due to incessant internal squabbling over issues such as tax cuts, health care reform and social welfare benefits.

The poll indicated that if the general election were held this week, the SPD and Greens would be well placed to reclaim power in Berlin.

Forsa conducted the survey September 6-10 among a representative sample of 2,501 German voters.

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Published: 15 Sep 10 16:28 CET

The former geological surveyor for the controversial nuclear waste depot Gorleben warned Wednesday that there could be dangerous gas deposits lurking beneath the old salt dome caverns.

“It is totally incomprehensible to me that despite all of these deficiencies Gorleben is still being examined for its suitability as a storage facility, and not any alternative sites,” geologist Klaus Duphorn said.

According to Duphorn, there would have to be no gas above a depth of 1,500 metres in the salt dome, but this could “hardly” be confirmed, he said.

East German files from 1969, when the communist regime drilled into the salt dome just over the border from Gorleben in Lower Saxony, show that there was a deadly accident involving a gas explosion some five kilometres from where the nuclear waste is located.

That incident proves that there are two geological layers under the mine that hold natural gas, Duphorn said.

“This gas is highly explosive. The ignition point is at 20 degrees Celsius if it meets oxygen,” he warned.

Other geological deficiencies mean that caverns could shift, creating cracks that might allow for the contamination of groundwater, he said.

Duphorn, 76, was the first official geologist hired by the German government to survey Gorleben. His opinion, however, was later kept out of the official appraisal, he said, alleging this was because of his unfavourable conclusions.

Despite repeated allegations about questionable safety conditions and illegal development at Gorleben, exploration of the site is set to resume in October after a 10-year hiatus.

In March a media report said that Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen was considering stripping the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) of its nuclear waste duties in order to end the moratorium on new exploration and expedite further storage at the site.

Nuclear energy is deeply unpopular in Germany and protests are often staged at Gorleben, which has come to symbolise activists’ concerns about its safety.