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(last updated 24 Jun 2017)


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Compensation of former Wismut uranium miners

3,700 Wismut miners contracted lung cancer after Wismut stopped operations

The number of former Wismut miners who contracted lung cancer is higher than expected. According to the German statutory accident insurance, 3,700 cases of lung cancer were recognized as occupationally caused since 1991. Moreover, 100 workers contracted cancer of the larynx, and 2,800 workers a quartz pneumoconiosis. (MDR Apr. 27, 2012)

Federal Social Court awards former Wismut miners compensation for larynx cancer

On Aug. 18, 2004, the German Federal Social Court (Bundessozialgericht ) in a landmark ruling for the first time decided, that a compensation of cancer other than lung cancer is justified for uranium miners. In two cases, filed by former Wismut uranium miners and/or their surviving families, the Court has found that the larynx cancer developed by the miners must be seen as caused by their former occupation and therefore has to be compensated by the employers' liability insurance. The insurance had maintained that no epidemiological evidence had ever proven such causation, while only the dosimetric model by Jacobi (1995) had been used so far to support such claims. The court decisions are relevant for approx. 2000 other former Wismut miners who have contracted cancers other than lung cancer.
(Aktenzeichen: B 8 KN 2/03 U R, B 8 KN 1/03 U R)

Sources: Bundessozialgericht: Presse-Vorbericht Nr. 46/04 (5.8.2004), Presse-Mitteilung Nr. 46/04 (18.8.2004), ap Aug. 18, 2004

 


 

Federal cleanup of Wismut's uranium mine and mill sites

General · Saxony · Thuringia

General

> see also: Uranium Mining in Eastern Germany: The WISMUT Legacy (38k)
(see also Decommissioning Data)

> See also: National Reports for Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management (IAEA)

 

Total cost for reclamation of Wismut's uranium mining legacy to rise to EUR 8 billion

Wismut's current estimate for the total decommissioning cost until 2045 is around EUR 8 billion, of which around EUR 6 billion have been spent so far. (Ostthüringer Zeitung June 17, 2016)

Long-term management of Wismut legacy requires another EUR 2.1 billion

The management of Wismut's former uranium mining sites in Eastern Germany requires another EUR 2.1 billion until 2045, mainly for water treatment purposes. (Ostthüringer Zeitung Dec. 10, 2015)
[This comes in addition to the EUR 6.6 billion allocted so far and represents a four-fold increase over last year's estimate of an additional EUR 500 million required until 2040, see below.]

New European Union Basic Safety Standards may water down standards for cleanup of remaining Wismut uranium mine sites in Germany

> View here

Funds provided for decommissioning of Wismut's uranium mines not sufficient to cover longterm maintenance

At the end of the year 2013, Wismut had completed over 80% of its decommissioning task. The decommissioning work is expected to be completed by 2020, while longterm maintenance and surveillance will have to continue for an indefinite period of time.
So far, 5.8 billion of the 6.6 billion Euros allocated by the government have been spent. It is expected that the total cost until 2040 will rise to EUR 7.1 billion. (Ostthüringer Zeitung July 15, 2014)

Wismut plans to complete cleanup of uranium mining legacy by 2020

Wismut GmbH plans to conclude the cleanup of the uranium mining legacy in Thuringia and Saxony by 2020. After this date, long-term tasks such as water treatment, environmental monitoring and surveillance of reclaimed surfaces will have to continue for an unknown period of time. (DAPD June 23, 2011)

Federal cleanup of Wismut's uranium mining legacy to cost more and last longer

The Federal Republic of Germany, sole owner of Wismut GmbH, has increased the initial Euro 6.65 billion cleanup budget by 5.3% to Euro 7 billion. Of this total amount, Euro 5.4 billion have been spent until end 2010 already. The amount available for the year 2011 is Euro 139 million.
The completion of the reclamation work, initially set at 2010/2012, is now expected 10 years later at 2020/2022. The completion of the most challenging task, the stabilization of the largest uranium mill tailings deposit Culmitzsch is expected for 2022. The water treatment facilities for the effluents arising at various sites will have to continue operation even beyond that date, as heavy metal concentrations will still be too high for unrestricted release. (Freie Presse May 4, 2011)

German radiation protection authority releases monitoring results for radon in former uranium mining areas

> View here

Cleanup of Wismut legacy to take longer than foreseen

The cleanup of the uranium mining legacy in Saxony and Thuringia will take longer than foreseen and continue beyond 2015, according to Wismut's technical director Stefan Mann. The funding requirements won't increase, though. Euro 5.1 billion have been spent until end 2008, while the total cost was initially estimated at Euro 6.6 billion. (Freie Presse Jan. 2, 2009)

Wismut's cleanup funds assured in 2004

In an answer to a parliamentary question, the Federal Ministry of Economics and Labour has stated that Wismut GmbH will receive Euro 215 million for its regular reclamation work during the course of the year 2004. According to the current schedule, the clean-up will be completed in 2015. (Bundestags-Drucksache 15/2791 vom 26.3. 2004)

No major damages by floods at Wismut sites

The heavy rain events and floods in Eastern Germany have caused minor damages only to the Wismut uranium mine sites undergoing reclamation. The Saxonian mine sites of Schlema/Alberoda and Königstein were those most affected, while the Thuringian sites of Ronneburg (mine) and Seelingstädt (mill/tailings) were not affected. (Wismut Aug. 20, 2002)

The situation at the sites that are no longer under the jurisdiction of Wismut, including a number of uranium mill tailings ponds, is unclear, however.

 

Saxony

Helmsdorf tailings (Saxony), aerial view: Google Maps
Königstein underground/in-situ leach mine with Schüsselgrund waste pile (Saxony), aerial view: Google Maps

Mystery of slumping soil cover of Wismut's waste rock pile No. 366 solved (?)

Other than previously thought, it wasn't the mice who caused recurring slumps of the cover of Wismut's waste rock pile No. 366 near Aue, Saxony. After a thorough investigation, Wismut now believes that the silt contents of the cover material was too high, causing the soil cover to creep. Wismut now has replaced the cover material in question and strengthened the requirements for the silt contents of cover material. (Freie Presse Aug. 23, 2016)
> See also: Cover of Wismut's waste rock pile No. 366 slumps again
> See also: Mice undermining stability of uranium mine waste rock pile in Saxony

Conveyor belt failure delays completion of relocation of Wismut's Crossen waste rock pile

The conveyor belt transporting the material of the Crossen waste rock pile to the Helmsdorf uranium mill tailings deposit is broken. As repairs would be excessively expensive, Wismut now plans to relocate the rest of the pile by trucks. At present, only a fraction of the scheduled amounts are being relocated. The original plan was to have the relocation completed within a year from now. (Freie Presse Apr. 12, 2016)

Seepage from Wismut's Helmsdorf uranium tailings deposit decreases, as construction of cover is nearing completion

The cover on top of Wismut's 50-million tonne Helmsdorf uranium mill tailings deposit has been completed on an area of 194 of a total of 220 hectares by now. Accordingly, the amount of seepage catched and treated has already decreased considerably. The treatment residue is dumped in the deposit in cemented form. Completion of the cover is expected by 2018/2019. It is still unclear, whether the operation of the water treatment plant will have to continue indefinitely. (Freie Presse Oct. 6, 2015)

Cover of Wismut's waste rock pile No. 366 slumps again

Seven years after the cover of Wismut's waste rock pile No. 366 near Aue, Saxony, slumped, cracks are now found at the same place of the cover. Other than last time, when the slump affected 2500 square metres of the cover, this time only 200 square meters are involved, so far, but any further extension of the affected area cannot be exluded yet. (Freie Presse Mar. 13, 2015)
Wismut has removed parts of the cover of waste rock pile No. 366 to investigate the cause of its previous failures. (Freie Presse May 3, 2016)
> See also: Mice undermining stability of uranium mine waste rock pile in Saxony

Rising radon emissions from Wismut's reclaimed waste rock piles leading to public doses above 1 mSv/a target value

According to Wismut's 2013 Environmental Report (p.14), radon concentrations in part of the town of Niederschlema have increased above the 80 Bq/m3 target value as a result of rising radon release rates from reclaimed waste rock piles. The target value includes the background radon concentration and is meant to assure a 1 mSv/a dose limit for the public. The increase of the release rates from the reclaimed piles has been observed over several consecutive years already. The report offers no discussion nor any proposals for remedies of the situation.
> Download: Umweltbericht 2013 , Wismut GmbH (7.4MB PDF - in German)

According to a conference paper presented by the Saxon State Office for Environment, Agriculture and Geology (LfULG) on Sep. 22, 2014, the doses actually reach 3 - 5 mSv/a in certain local areas.
Source: Assessment of the success of rehabilitation at waste rock piles of the former uranium mining from the supervisory authority's perspective by the example of Schlema-Alberoda (Germany), by Klaus Flesch, Andrea Sperrhacke, in: Broder J. Merkel, Alireza Arab (Eds.), Uranium - Past and Future Challenges, Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Uranium Mining and Hydrogeology, 2014, p. 325-332

Decommissioning of underground workings of Wismut's Königstein uranium mine completed

At the end of April 2013, the last shaft of the Königstein underground uranium mine was backfilled with a self-hardening fill up, completing the decommissioning of the underground part of the mine. Cleanup work continues at the surface of the mine site. (Wismut GmbH May 6, 2013)

Effluent from Wismut's former Aue uranium mine to be used for geothermal heating in Bad Schlema

Next week, a geothermal heating system will start to operate at the Schillerschule school in Bad Schlema. It uses the effluent of a water treatment plant that reduces concentrations of uranium, arsenic, etc. in water pumped from a former Wismut uranium mine from a depth of 90 metres. The town is investigating the opportunity to extend the geothermal heating to larger parts of the community. (Freie Presse Nov. 23, 2012)

Effluent from Wismut's former Aue uranium mine could be used for geothermal heating

The city of Aue is investigating the feasibility of using the effluent from the water treatment plant at Wismut's former Aue mine for geothermal heating in an industrial park. The effluent amounts to 800 cubic metres per hour at a temperature of 25C. (Freie Presse Oct. 31, 2011)
The proposal to use mine water from the former Aue uranium mine for geothermal heating in the Alberoda industrial park has been put on the back burner, as it would not be economically feasible. The water is not hot enough to make it attractive for the firms. (Freie Presse Nov. 23, 2012)

Pilot project for geothermal heating from former Wismut uranium mines

Mine water at temperatures of 25 C is to be pumped in a pilot project from depths of 60 to 90 metres to supply heating for a school in Bad Schlema. For the future, Bad Schlema hopes to supply heating from mine water for the whole town. (Sächsische Zeitung Jan. 16, 2010)

Final phase of flooding begins at Wismut's Königstein underground/ISL mine

On August 3, 2009, Wismut started the final flooding phase of the former Königstein underground/ISL mine in Saxony. Flooding of the mine is expected to be completed in 2015. (Sächsische Zeitung Aug. 3, 2009)

Final phase of flooding begins at Wismut's Schlema underground mines

On July 6, 2009, Wismut plans to begin the final phase of flooding at the former underground uranium mine in Schlema. Flooding of the deepest sections of the up to 1800 metres deep mine started already in 1991. The water level is allowed to rise at a slow pace to avoid subsidence at the surface. After completion of the flooding, contaminated discharges from the mine will have to be treated in the long term at a rate of 800 cubic metres per hour. (Freie Presse July 2, 2009)

Water treatment plant under construction at Wismut's Hartenstein waste rock pile

An effluent treatment plant is under construction for seepage catched at Wismut's No. 371 waste rock pile at Hartenstein in the Aue area. While seepage at other waste rock piles is allowed to flow into former underground mines located beneath the piles, there exist no such mines at this site: therefore, seepage could reach the Zwickauer Mulde river, if untreated. The No. 371 pile covers an area of more than 65 hectares. The average amount of seepage collected is 37 cubic metres per hour, while the plant can handle 100 cubic metres per hour.
Excess mine water from the former underground mines in the Aue area arises at a rate of 750 cubic metres per hour and is treated by a treatment plant with a capacity of 1150 cubic metres per hour. It is expected that treatment will have to continue for several decades, until contaminant concentrations will be low enough to allow for direct effluent discharge into the Mulde river. (Freie Presse Mar. 17, 2009)

Reclamation of Dänkritz I uranium mill tailings deposit almost completed

On Dec. 2, 2008, Wismut GmbH announced that the reclamation of the Dänkritz I uranium mill tailings deposit in Saxony is almost completed.

Reclamation of former Crossen uranium mill site completed

On Nov. 17, 2008, Wismut GmbH announced that the reclamation of the former Crossen uranium mill site in Saxony has been completed. Demolition of the buildings on the 17 hectare site had started in 1992. All waste material was dumped on the Helmsdorf tailings deposit.
The relocation of the 3.2 million m3 Crossen waste rock pile to the Helmsdorf tailings deposit is still ongoing, with completion expected by 2012.

Potential collapse of Wismut's Helmsdorf tailings dam in an earthquake could lead to severe local and regional environmental damage and contamination, study

"In summary, the exposure of German tailings facilities to earthquakes is low, especially because of the effective standards and regulations which are used to operate them. However, a collapse of a tailings dam could lead to a wide range of loss-scenarios. Overall, the main earthquake-triggered collapses of dams are breaches and liquefactions. These loss-scenarios could lead to severe local and regional environmental damage and contamination, also leading to high economic losses with high costs for down time and compensation."
Implications of Earthquakes on the Stability of Tailings Dams , by Tobias Rudolph, Wilhelm G. Coldewey, 10th International Mine Water Association Congress, June 2 - 5, 2008, Karlsbad, Czech Republic (233k PDF)
> See also:
Implications of Earthquakes on the Stability of Tailings Dams , by Tobias Rudolph, Workshop on the Safety of Tailing Management Facilities, 12 - 14 November 2007, Yerevan, Armenia, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (943k PDF)

Mice undermining stability of uranium mine waste rock pile in Saxony

After heavy rain, a section of the soil cover on Wismut's waste rock pile No. 366 in Aue (Saxony) slipped down. The 1 metre soil cover had been installed in 2001 and was meant to last for decades. It is assumed that burrowing mice have contributed to the problem. An expert will conduct an investigation into the cause of the failure. (Freie Presse Jan. 22, 2008)
The investigation concluded that the cover failure had been caused by heavy rain, in combination with tunnels burrowed by mice. Meanwhile, another section of the cover began sliding down. (Freie Presse Apr. 15, 2008)
The damaged cover has been repaired, including some modifications to improve surface water runoff. (Wismut GmbH June 2, 2008)

> See also: Cover of Wismut's waste rock pile No. 366 slumps again

Wismut to drive dewatering tunnel to continue flooding of Dresden-Gittersee mine

In 1995, Wismut had halted the pumps at the former Dresden-Gittersee underground uranium mine, to allow for flooding of the mine by inflowing groundwater. In July 2003, however, groundwater reached the surface at several locations in the town of Freital-Potschappel, while the mine was not completely flooded yet. So, flooding had to be halted temporarily. Wismut now made a decision to drive a 2900 m long dewatering tunnel, to allow for resumption of the flooding process, without endangering surrounding settlements. (Wismut GmbH Dec. 19, 2005)

Former Wismut waste rock pile becomes golf course

A golf course is to be built on the reclaimed parts (comprising 57 hectares) of Wismut's former No. 382 uranium mine waste rock pile in Schlema, Saxony. Environmental monitoring of the site will continue; the cost will be paid for by Wismut GmbH for a limited period of time. (Wismut GmbH May 11, 2004)
Construction of the golf course started on April 21, 2008. (Freie Presse Apr. 23, 2008)
Construction of the golf course is completed. (Freie Presse Aug. 27, 2008)
The golf course Golfpark Westerzgebirge was inaugurated on May 31, 2009. Total construction cost was EUR 1.3 million. (Freie Presse Jun. 1, 2009)

 

Thuringia

former Ronneburg mine (Thuringia), aerial view: Google Maps
Culmitzsch tailings (Thuringia), aerial view: Google Maps
Trünzig tailings (Thuringia), aerial view: Google Maps

Wismut completes intermediate cover on its last tailings pile Culmitzsch

After an effort of about 25 years, Wismut completed the installation of intermediate covers on all of its large uranium mill tailings piles. The intermediate cover of the last pile, Culmitzsch, was completed on June 24, 2017. The completion of the final cover is expected to be completed by 2028. (dpa June 24, 2017)

Wismut starts installation of wicks to dewater Culmitzsch A tailings pile in order to support final cover

On April 29, 2016, Wismut announced that it has begun to install wicks reaching from the intermediate cover of the Culmitzsch A tailings dam up to 30 m down into the tailings. The process is meant to dewater the tailings in order to increase the stability of the tailings for they can support a final cover. The total length of the wicks will be 900 km. The process will take several years.

Reclamation of Wismut's largest tailings pile Culmitzsch won't be completed before 2028

In a recent update to its reclamation program, Wismut announced on Feb. 26, 2016, that its reclamation task will continue until 2028, when the reclamation of the 90 million t Culmitzsch tailings pile in Thuringia will be completed.

Construction of test plot for final cover of Wismut's largest uranium mill tailings pile Culmitzsch to start

On Feb. 9, 2015, Wismut announced that it has obtained the licence for the construction of a 17.3 hectare test plot for the final cover of the 90 million tonne Culmitzsch uranium mill tailings deposit in Thuringia. Wismut had filed the application for the whole area of 241 hectares in December 2012. The licence issued by the state mining office (Landesbergamt) in Gera requires a thicker and more expensive cover than Wismut had applied for. Construction is planned to start this spring.

Base area of relocated Paitzdorf uranium waste rock piles to be reafforested

The town council of Ronneburg approved the acquisition of the 28.5-hectare base area of the relocated Paitzdorf uranium waste rock piles from former uranium miner Wismut. The area is to be reafforested. (Ostthüringer Zeitung June 14, 2014)

Horses grazing on top of Wismut's reclaimed Trünzig uranium mill tailings pile

The top plateau of Wismut's reclaimed Trünzig uranium mill tailings pile is being used as a grazing by a horse breeder. The vegetative cover of the deposit thus remains open land, as requested by the Nature Conservation Authority. (Ostthüringer Zeitung May 28, 2014)

Heavy metal contents of plants grown on soils in former Ronneburg uranium mine area exceeds safe levels for incalculable time spans, study finds

"It is concluded that the content in Cd/As, Cd, and Cu exclude herbage/Ronneburg soil from the commercial use as forage or pasture land soil for incalculable time spans."
Forage and rangeland plants from uranium mine soils: long-term hazard to herbivores and livestock? by Gramss, G and Voigt, KD, in: Environmental Geochemistry and Health, ahead of print Oct 6, 2013.

Installation of intermediate cover on Culmitzsch uranium mill tailings pile halted again due to heavy rains

Due to heavy rains, the amount of water ponding on top of the Culmitzsch A uranium mill tailings pile has increased from about 13,000 cubic metres (May 2012) to about 399,000 cubic metres in June 2013. The surface area of the ponding water correspondingly has increased from about 3 hectares to about 20 hectares. The installation of an intermediate cover on top of the pile therefore cannot be continued in 2013. Completion of the reclamation of the pile will take until 2020, according to current plans. (Wismut GmbH June 27, 2013)

On Jan. 17, 2014, Wismut announced that the works for the installation of the intermediate cover have resumed. Completion is expected within three years.

Proposed cover for Germany's largest uranium mill tailings pile Culmitzsch needlessly allows for excessive infiltration of precipitation, group warns

The Ronneburg church environmental group criticizes the current plan for the final cover of the 90 million t Culmitzsch uranium mill tailings deposit. The tailings are located in two former open pits, enlarged by earth dams, and cover 234 hectares. The tailings do not have a bottom liner and are to be reclaimed in place. Therefore, a rather impermeable cover would be desirable to limit infiltration of precipitation in order to keep seepage and its treatment as low as possible in the future.
The current plan, however, is to use locally available waste rock for the cover, with a permeability 13-fold higher than an earth cover, needlessly increasing the infiltration problem and the demand for water treatment in the long term.
The group also criticizes the planning process, which is conducted according to mining law without environmental assessment and opportunity for public involvement.
(Die Endabdeckung Deutschlands größter radioaktiver Deponie steht vor der Genehmigung, von Frank Lange, in: Strahlentelex Nr. 630-631, 4. April 2013, S. 5-9)

Cleanup of Wismut's former Seelingstädt uranium mill site to be completed this year

The remaining cleanup work comprises the removal of 55,000 cubic metres of contaminated soil from an area of 2.6 hectares. The contaminated material has to be excavated from depths down to 6.5 metres and is trucked to the Culmitzsch uranium mill tailings deposit. After excavation, the area will be filled with 49,000 cubic metres of clean material. The surface will then be seeded with grass and partly planted with trees. (Thüringer Allgemeine Feb. 26, 2013)

Solar park opened on former Ronneburg uranium mining site

A solar park with more than 80,000 photovoltaic modules has been inaugurated on a 40 hectare reclaimed area of the former Reust uranium mine. The expected annual production is 19 million kilowatt hours. (Wismut GmbH Oct. 4, 2012)

Work on intermediate cover of Culmitzsch A uranium mill tailings deposit resumes

On June 25, 2012, Wismut GmbH announced that the works to install an intermediate cover on top of the Culmitzsch A uranium mill tailings deposit have resumed. The works had to be halted in 2010 after heavy rains had increased the surface area covered by ponding water from 3 to 40 hectares. Completion of the works is expected within three years. The Culmitzsch A deposit with a tailings height of up to 72 metres is the last tailings deposit still without an intermediate cover in Wismut's federal reclamation programme.

Wismut builds new deposit for water treatment plant residues

On Aug. 8, 2011, Wismut began the construction of a second deposit for the residues from its Ronneburg water treatment plant. The deposit with a capacity of 540,000 cubic metres will cover an area of 7.6 hectares. (Wismut GmbH Aug. 29, 2011)

Wismut plans to release higher salt loads to river

Wismut has applied for a permit to release higher salt loads from its Ronneburg water treatment plant to the Weiße Elster river. While the plant removes contaminants such as uranium, radium, and heavy metals, sulfate passes the plant undeminished. The salt load would increase the degree of hardness of the river's water from 19 to 24 dH [from 3.4 to 4.3 mmol/l], making it "very hard". The Ronneburg church environmental group warns from impacts on microorganisms. (Ostthüringer Zeitung Aug. 23, 2011)

Wismut's water treatment plant capacity increased, but untreated mine water still has to be released occasionally

Wismut has increased the capacity of the water treatment plant in the former Ronneburg mining area from 500 to 750 cubic metres per hour. The new treatment line is currently being tested at full capacity, but will be completed only by end September. In the meantime, excess water inflow into the flooded underground mines will have to be released untreated. After a period of heavy rain, the groundwater level in the mining area had increased to unexpected levels. To avoid the uncontrolled escape of the contaminated mine water to the surface, excess water has to be released to surface waters after treatment. (Ostthüringer Zeitung July 1, 2011)
On Oct. 6, 2011, Wismut announced the completion of the capacity increase of the water treatment plant.

Wismut's water treatment plant capacity insufficient to handle effluent volume increase after heavy rains

The standards for nickel and cadmium are currently exceeded in the Gessenbach creek in the former Ronneburg uranium mining area in Thuringia. The problem is apparently caused by the heavy rains of the last months, impacting the flooding process of the underground mines and dissolving contaminants from the rock. The capacity of Wismut's water treatment plant is insufficient to treat all of the current effluent; its capacity will be increased only in the second half of 2011. (Ostthüringer Zeitung Feb. 11, 2011)

Capacity of water treatment plant at Wismut's former Ronneburg mine to be increased

Wismut is planning to increase the capacity of the water treatment plant at the former Ronneburg uranium mine from 450 to 750 cubic metres per hour. The expansion became necessary due to increased groundwater inflow. The expanded plant is scheduled to start operation at the end of 2010. (Wismut Apr. 2, 2009)

Overflowing mine flooding water contaminates surface waters in Wismut's former uranium mining area in Thuringia

At times of wet weather, contaminated waters from the flooded underground uranium mines in the Ronneburg area reach the surface and spill into surface waters, in particular the Gessenbach creek. Due to various technical problems, Wismut GmbH currently is not capable to treat the water nor keep the groundwater level at a lower level in order to avoid further spills. (Kirchlicher Umweltkreis Ronneburg Nov. 26, 2007)

Relocation of Wismut's landmark waste rock piles in Thuringia completed

The relocation of the last two conical waste rock piles left from Wismut's uranium mining operations in Ronneburg/Thuringia has been completed. One last larger waste rock pile (Halde 4) is being relocated now. (Wismut March 23, 2007)

Flooding of southern part of Ronneburg underground mine completed

On Aug. 21, 2006, groundwater water reached its natural level in the flooded southern part of Wismut's former Ronneburg uranium mine. Subsequently, a new water treatment plant started operation in order to maintain the natural groundwater level. The plant treats further inflowing groundwater before release into the Wipse creek. It is expected that the water treatment plant will have to operate for 15 to 25 years. The flooding of the underground mine had started in 1998 (that is, groundwater inflow started to refill the mine, when the pumps that kept the mine dry were halted, after all hazardous material had been removed from the mine and 120 underground barriers had been built). The cavity volume of the northern and southern parts of the mine combined is approx. 27 million cubic meters. (Wismut GmbH Aug. 22, 2006)

Intermediate cover on Basin B of Culmitzsch uranium mill tailings completed

On August 14, 2006, the 85 ha intermediate cover on top of the Basin B of Wismut's 90 million t Culmitzsch uranium mill tailings deposit in Thuringia was completed. The completion of the intermediate cover for the Basin A is expected for 2009. (Wismut GmbH, Aug. 14, 2006)

No more radiation hazard on former uranium mining area that is intended for 2007 garden festival

The former uranium mining area in Ronneburg (Thuringia) that is to host the 2007 federal garden festival (Bundesgartenschau 2007 ) no longer presents a radiation hazard. A study performed by Öko-Institut found that a visitor receives a dose of 4.85 Micro-Sievert during a 20-hour stay on the festival area (i.e. 242 nSv/h). This value includes gamma radiation, inhalation of radon and dust, among others. Such values were also to be found in areas not affected by uranium mining. (dpa June 7, 2006)
The garden festival was opened on April 27, 2007, and will last until Oct. 14, 2007.
During the garden festival, IPPNW will hold several events on the history and the hazards of the Wismut uranium mining operations. For details, see: uranrisiko.de · kunstschau.tv

Church environmental group calls for memorial site commemorating consequences of Wismut's uranium mining

The church environmental group of Ronneburg (Kirchlicher Umweltkreis Ronneburg) calls for the construction of a memorial to commemorate the consequences of decades of uranium mining in Thuringia, as there are the villages that had to make way for the mines, and the victims of the mining operations, many of whom died from lung cancer contracted in the mines. The memorial should commemorate the commitment of the miners, but it should also make clear that there is no clean nuclear energy, given the impacts of uranium mining. (Press Release of Lutheran Church in Thuringia, May 11, 2005)

Relocation of Paitzdorf waste rock piles (Thuringia)

The relocation of the Paitzdorf waste rock piles was completed on Dec. 12, 2006. (Wismut Dec. 12, 2006) The Relocation of the two conical landmark Paitzdorf waste rock piles started on Jan. 4, 2006. It is scheduled for completion until the end of the year 2006. (Wismut Jan. 5, 2006)
On March 23, 2005, Wismut will start the pull down of the two conical Paitzdorf waste rock piles. From January 2006, the material totalling 8.2 million cubic meters will be transported over a distance of 5.5 km to the former Lichtenberg open pit mine. (Wismut March 17, 2005)

Environmental group criticizes cleanup at Thuringian Wismut sites

The church environmental group of Ronneburg (Kirchlicher Umweltkreis Ronneburg) criticizes some aspects of the reclamation currently being performed by Wismut GmbH in the former uranium mining area of Thuringia. The group raises concerns related to the flooding of the former underground mines, and related to the top cover to be applied to the Lichtenberg waste rock pile.
The Thuringian underground mines with approx. one thousand kilometers of tunnels are currently in the process of being refilled with groundwater. During the active mining period, groundwater had been pumped, producing a huge depression cone. Now, the pumps have been shut off, allowing inflowing groundwater to refill the mine. According to the group, the procedure chosen for the refilling of the mines allows for higher contaminant levels in any outcropping water than achievable with a more modest refilling scheme that would require more expenses for water treatment, though.
The former Lichtenberg open pit is being refilled with contaminated waste rock material. Eventually, the waste material will form a new pile at the site of the former open pit. It is planned to cover this pile with 1 metre of slightly contaminated material, plus a 40 cm top cover of neutral material. The group criticizes that this cover design allows for twice the infiltration rates from rainfall than achievable with a better cover design that would be more expensive, though; in addition, it were not clear whether the design chosen would be suitable to sustain trees and whether it would meet the 200 year durability criterion aimed at by Wismut. (Strahlentelex, 3 Feb. 2005)

Wismut to begin relocation of Ronneburg landmark uranium waste rock piles

Ronneburg with uranium waste rock piles (Photo: Michael Beleites)

On June 5, 2004, Wismut GmbH will start the pull down of the four conical landmark uranium waste rock piles in the Ronneburg area (Thuringia). The piles are approx. 100 meters high and contain a total of 15 million cubic meters of waste rock from the former underground mines in the area. The material will be relocated to the former Lichtenberg open pit mine in Ronneburg.
Due to their visibility over a long distance, these piles - in common parlance referred to as "the pyramids of Ronneburg" - have become landmarks symbolizing the uranium mining era in Thuringia, although they are by far smaller in volume than other uranium waste rock piles in the area. The relocation operation will be completed in 2007. (ddp May 3, 2004)

 


 

Cleanup of Wismut's abandoned legacy uranium mine and mill sites

General · Saxony · Thuringia

(these sites are not covered by the above federal cleanup program!)

 

General

> See also: Uranium Mining in Eastern Germany: The WISMUT Legacy (38k)
(see also Decommissioning Data)

German radiation protection authority releases monitoring results for radon in former uranium mining areas

"Summary
In the Federal States of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia, centuries of mining and milling activities resulted in numerous residues with increased levels of natural radioactivity, like waste rock dumps and tailings ponds. These may have altered the situation concerning radiation exposure significantly. Especially waste rock dumps from old mining activities as well as 20th century uranium mining may, due to their radon exhalation capacity, lead to significant radiation exposures. They often lie close to or within residential areas. To investigate the impact on the natural radon level, the federal office for radiation protection has run networks of radon measurement points in 16 former mining areas, together with 2 networks in regions not influenced by mining for comparison purposes. Altogether, data has been taken at 595 measurement points.
As a result of these investigations, representative overviews of the long-term outdoor radon concentrations could be established including estimates of regional background concentrations. One of the most important findings of the investigations is the fact that the former mining and milling activities did not result in large area impacts on the outdoor radon level. Only some of the neighbourhoods immediately adjacent to mining residues show a significant increase of concentration, which might also influence the indoor concentrations in nearby houses.
Based on the background values, regions were identified where the radon exhalation from mining residues has lead to increased concentrations in residential areas and resulting radiation exposures of the population estimated. Also, the consequences of the Wismut companies reclamation activities are reported. Finally, recommendations are given on the radiological evaluation of outdoor radon concentrations."
> Download: Ergebnisse der Radonmessungen in der bodennahen Luft der Bergbaugebiete , BfS-SW-05/09, C. Dushe, C.; Gehrcke, K.; Kümmel, K.; Müller, S., Dezember 2009 (BfS - in German)

Assessment of abandoned sites completed - Cleanup still not assured

The Federal Radiation Protection Agency (Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz) has completed a survey of the sites where Wismut mined uranium but where Wismut no longer is the site owner. These sites are not included in the cleanup programme funded by the Federal Government, but their cleanup has to be paid for by the State governments. The survey showed that radiation hazards exist only at 20% of the 8000 sites identified, and that those hazards are limited to the immediate vicinity of the sites. (BfS press release March 15, 2001 - in German )
The estimated cleanup cost for those abandoned sites located in Saxony alone is estimated at DM 900 million (US$ 410 million). The Saxonian State Government has spent only DM 60 million so far on their cleanup. (Freie Presse March 17, 2001)

> See also: Altstandorte des Uranbergbaus in Sachsen (30k PDF, in German)

 

Saxony

Schneckenstein tailings (Saxony), aerial view: Google Maps
Lengenfeld tailings (Saxony), aerial view: Google Maps
Dänkritz 2 tailings (Saxony), aerial view: Google Maps
Johanngeorgenstadt Steinsee tailings (Saxony), aerial view: Google Maps
Dresden-Gittersee tailings (Saxony), aerial view: Google Maps
Freital tailings (Saxony), aerial view: Google Maps

> See also: Altstandorte des Uranbergbaus in Sachsen (30k PDF, in German)

 

Current cleanup program of Wismut's abandoned legacy uranium mine sites in Saxony covers only half of sites needing attention

The cleanup program of Wismut's abandoned legacy uranium mine and mill sites in Saxony will have spent all of the available EUR 216 million by 2022, when only half of the currently known sites will be cleaned up. (Freie Presse June 12, 2017)

 

Relocation of Halde 65 uranium waste rock pile in Bad Schlema

Residents oppose planned relocation of uranium waste rock pile located in center of town of Bad Schlema: 100 residents have signed a petition to abandon the relocation project for the Halde 65 uranium waste rock pile located in the center of the town of Schlema. The signatories fear dirt and noise from the relocation of the pile that has never received any cover. (Freie Presse Feb. 1, 2017)

Relocation planned for uranium waste rock pile located in center of town of Bad Schlema: A waste rock pile erected by Wismut in the 1940s in the center of the town of Schlema and operated until 1957 is to be relocated to the nearby Hartenstein waste rock pile No. 371. The relocation of the approx. 490,000 cubic metres of material could start in mid-2017. (Freie Presse July 13, 2016)

 

Reclamation of waste rock pile in Johanngeorgenstadt suspended due to local opposition

Wismut GmbH has suspended the planned reclamation of the Halde 51 waste rock pile (im Lehmergrund) in Johanngeorgenstadt due to opposition from residents. Wismut had planned to recontour the pile to increase stability and apply a soil cover to reduce the release of radon. Residents opposed the cutting of trees that is required to perform the task and the expected truck traffic. (Freie Presse Jan. 19, 2016)

Wismut starts partial reclamation of Freital No. 4 tailings pond

On Sep. 23, 2015, Wismut GmbH announced that the partial reclamation of the Freital No. 4 tailings pond in Saxony started on Sep. 22, 2015. This pond received uranium mill tailings from Jan. 1958 to Dec. 1960, and it has since not been cleaned up. Large parts of the deposit are covered with water. The (unspecified) cleanup work is to be performed by contractor Heitkamp and is estimated to last 5 years.

Wismut legacy waste rock pile Collmberghalde in Dresden to be reclaimed from 2016

The city of Dresden, the state of Saxony, and the Federal Republic have concluded an agreement for the finaning of the reclamation of the legacy waste rock pile Collmberghalde in Dresden. The reclamation cost for the 17 hectare pile is estimated at EUR 7 million. Reclamation will start in 2016 and hopefully be completed by 2021 or 2022. Currently, investigations are underway to assure that no historic mine cavities under the pile will endanger its stability. Initially, the pile received waste rock from Wismut's uranium exploration in the area, later domestic waste and coal ash. (Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten Feb. 9, 2015)

Further financing assured for reclamation of Wismut legacy sites in Saxony

Saxony's state parliament (Landtag) agreed on April 17, 2013, to an agreement with the federal government, according to which the State and the Federal Republic each contribute half of the EUR 138 million required until 2022 for the reclamation of the Wismut legacy sites in the state - sites that are not covered by the federal cleanup program. (Freie Presse Apr. 17, 2013)
The agreement was signed on April 24, 2013 (Freie Presse Apr. 24, 2013).

Reclamation of largest legacy waste rock pile in Johanngeorgenstadt completed

The reclamation of the 31.7 hectare Zentralschachthalde waste rock pile in Johanngeorgenstadt, Saxony, has been completed. The pile with a volume of 3 million cubic metres is the largest pile in the Johanngeorgenstadt area. Reclamation had started in September 2003. (Wismut GmbH Oct. 5, 2012)

Reclamation of Coschütz/Gittersee legacy uranium mill and tailings site in Dresden completed

The reclamation of the legacy uranium mill and tailings site site in Dresden-Coschütz has now been completed: The two uranium mill tailings piles located next to the site in the valley of Kaitzbach creek have been reclaimed in place. The piles contain a total of 2.5 million cubic metres of uranium mill tailings, plus 2.28 million cubic metres of ashes and other wastes. The cleanup of the 72 hectare former mill site had already been completed in 2003; the site was then developed into an industrial estate. The cleanup that started in 1993 caused costs of Euro 45.5 million, 14 million of which were contributed by the city of Dresden, and the rest by the state of Saxony and the Federal Republic. The monitoring of the site during the next 25 years will cost another Euro 3.5 million.
Until its closure in 1961, the mill had produced a total of 7,000 tonnes of uranium from locally-mined uranium-containing coal and from uranium ores mined in Schlema and Aue (Ore Mountain area). After an only cursory decontamination, the mill site was then re-used as a tyre factory until 1991. (Press release of the City of Dresden, Aug. 13, 2012)

Reclamation of Halde 296 legacy waste rock pile in Aue-Alberoda completed

The reclamation of the Halde 296 legacy waste rock pile in Aue-Alberoda, Saxony, has been completed. The originally conic pile was in use between 1950 and 1959. It had a volume of 952,000 cubic metres and covered an area of slightly more than 5 hectares. (Wismut GmbH Sep. 1, 2011)

Additional funding assured for reclamation of Wismut legacy sites

The German Federal Government and the State of Saxony have agreed to equally make available another EUR 138 million from 2013 to 2022 for the reclamation of uranium mining legacy sites in Saxony that are not covered by the Federal cleanup program. For the ten years from 2003 to 2012, EUR 78 million had been allocated for this purpose. (Freie Presse July 15, 2011)

Reclamation of Halde 278 legacy waste rock pile in Grünstädtel completed

The reclamation of the Halde 278 legacy waste rock pile in Grünstädtel, Saxony, has been completed at cost of EUR 3 million. The cleanup also included demolition of the buildings of the Schacht 278 mine. (Wismut GmbH Nov. 20, 2009)

Additional funding required for reclamation of Wismut legacy sites

The amount of EUR 78 million jointly provided by the Saxonian state and the Federal Government for the reclamation of abandoned Wismut legacy sites turns out to be insufficient. From 2012, another EUR 140 million will be required to reclaim all of the sites left from the late 1940s and the 1950s - sites which are not covered by the federal clean-up programme initiated in 1990. (Freie Presse Aug. 12, 2009)

Cleanup of abandoned Lengenfeld uranium mill tailings site and tailings spill

Cleanup of 1954 Lengenfeld uranium mill tailings spill finally completed
The cleanup of the areas contaminated by the 1954 Lengenfeld tailings spill finally has been completed. 55,000 cubic metres of contaminated material have been excavated from the Plohnbach creek valley floor and the Lenkteich pond and deposited in the Nordhalde waste pile. The total project cost was approx. EUR 3 million. (Freie Presse Oct. 22, 2011)
The Lenkteich pond was reopened with a celebration on June 23, 2012. (Freie Presse June 24, 2012)

Cleanup of 1954 Lengenfeld uranium mill tailings spill to start in April 2010
The cleanup of the areas contaminated by the 1954 Lengenfeld tailings spill is scheduled to start in April 2010. The reclamation of the contaminated Plohnbach creek and the restoration of the Lenkteich pond is to be completed by end 2011. At present, the radiation readings in the valley floor of the Plohnbach creek are the highest in any public area in Germany. The excavated contaminated material is to be deposited on the Nordhalde waste pile. Preparatory work has started in December 2009 already. (Freie Presse Feb. 17, 2010)

Cleanup of 1954 Lengenfeld uranium mill tailings spill finally to start
From July 8, 2009, the plans for the cleanup of the areas contaminated by a 1954 tailings spill are open for public review. Floods had caused a dam failure of the Lengenfeld uranium mill tailings deposit and thousands of tonnes of tailings spilled into the Lenkteich pond. The cleanup is expected to last until October 2013 at cost of EUR 2.5 million. (Euroherz July 8, 2009)

Reclamation of abandoned Lengenfeld tailings site to start with 4-year delay in 2009 (Saxony)
The public consultation on the proposed reclamation of the Lengenfeld uranium mill tailings deposit is to be held in 2008. Reclamation work is scheduled to start in 2009 - four years later than originally planned. (Freie Presse Dec. 15, 2007)

 

Federal Republic and Saxony sign agreement on reclamation of abandoned Wismut legacy sites

On September 5, 2003, after 13 years of dispute, the Federal Government of Germany and the Saxonian State Government signed an agreement on the reclamation of the Wismut legacy sites that are not covered by Wismut's current reclamation mission. The agreement covers the sites that were no longer owned by Wismut after 1962, mainly located in the Ore Mountains near the Czech border. The total amount of Euro 78 million (US$ 84 million) is to be spent on the legacy sites until 2012 - that is only 17% of the sum required, according to earlier estimates. The reclamation project will be managed by Wismut GmbH; local businesses will be involved in the realization. (Freie Presse/ddp Sep. 5, 2003)

Saxony contracts Wismut GmbH for reclamation of Johanngeorgenstadt uranium legacy sites

Twelve years after the unification of Germany, the state of Saxony has contracted Wismut GmbH for the project management of the planned reclamation of seven sites of former uranium mining activities in Johanngeorgenstadt and Breitenbrunn in the Ore Mountains. Former uranium miner Wismut is not legally responsible for these sites which were abandoned before 1960. (Wismut release Jan. 14, 2003)

 

Thuringia

No remediation in sight for high uranium concentrations in village ponds impacted by Wismut legacies

Since October 2015, the water from the ponds in the village of Gauern may no longer be used. The pond water is impacted by Wismut's nearby Gauern waste rock pile. Sampling showed uranium concentrations up to 1,437 g/L in the pond water, while background concentrations are about 20 g/L. As the waste rock pile is not part of Wismut's cleanup responsibility and is now privately owned, there is no remediation planned. The Thuringian Ministry of Environment also sees no need for further action. (Ostthüringer Zeitung Mar. 31, 2016)

According to the church environmental group of Ronneburg (Kirchlicher Umweltkreis Ronneburg), this water use ban does not include the fish held in the pond nor the use of the downstream water for irrigation. (Strahlentelex Nr. 702-703 / 7 April 2016)

See also: High uranium concentrations in village pond

Environmental group demands reclamation of Wismut's abandoned legacy sites in Thuringia

While in Saxony efforts for the reclamation of Wismut's abandoned legacy sites (i.e. sites that are not part of the federal cleanup programme) are ongoing for some years already, the Thuringian Ministry of Environment sees no need to set up a similar effort for those of Wismut's legacy sites that are located in Thuringia. These sites are not even secured against release for new uses, in spite of the persisting hazards.
The church environmental group of Ronneburg (Kirchlicher Umweltkreis Ronneburg) now demands an effort for the securing of Wismut's abandoned Thuringian legacy sites comparable to the one ongoing for the Saxonian sites. (Strahlentelex Nr. 544-545, 3. Sept. 2009)

Meanwhile, the church environmental group of Ronneburg (Kirchlicher Umweltkreis Ronneburg) has compiled a list of legacy sites in Thuringia. It comprises 9 sites (covering 352.66 hectares) in the Seelingstädt area and 17 sites (covering 50.29 hectares) in the Ronneburg area. (Strahlentelex Nr. 560-561, 6 May 2010)

Hazards resulting from the abandoned legacy sites can even endanger neighbouring sites currently undergoing reclamation: On July 23, 2010, heavy rain caused a slope slide at a waste rock pile near the Trünzig tailings deposit. (Strahlentelex Nr. 570-571, 7 Oct 2010)

In a meeting with the Thuringia state chancellery, the church environmental group of Ronneburg urged a reassessment of the legacy uranium sites in Thuringia. Only a small fraction of the sites has been documented and assessed properly, the group says. In the Ronneburg area alone, there are 300 hectares of abandonded and radiologically hazardous land. In some areas near Seelingstädt, radon concentrations of 50 - 115 Bq per cubic metre are observed during winter. (Ostthüringer Zeitung Oct. 28, 2010)

On May 10, 2012, the Thuringia state parliament (Landtag) turned down a petition filed by the church environmental group of Ronneburg in September 2011. The group had demanded to set up a reclamation programme for Wismut's abandoned legacy sites in Thuringia. (Strahlentelex Nr. 610-611, June 7, 2012)

Legacy Wismut waste rock pile unsafe for unlimited occupancy: According to monitoring performed by the church environmental group of Ronneburg, the gamma dose rate on top of the forest-covered Gauern waste rock pile reaches 7 times background; consequently, a dose of 1 mSv would be reached after an occupancy time of 2,100 hours. Peak dose rates above 1000 nSv/h (as identified by the authorities) would allow for an occupancy of only 950 hours. The Thuringia state government sees no problem with this situation, unless a change of use were planned for the areas in question. (Strahlentelex Nr. 702-703 / 7 April 2016)

High uranium concentrations in village pond

High uranium concentrations of up to 3.5 milligrams per litre were found in the water of the village pond and some private ponds in the village of Gauern in Eastern Thuringia. The village is located close to the 80 million t Culmitzsch uranium mill tailings pile and the Gauern uranium waste rock pile.
For comparison: the World Health Organization WHO recommends a value of 0.002 milligrams per litre for drinking water, and the U.S. drinking water standard is 0.03 milligrams per litre.
Fish caught from the village pond also had elevated radionuclide concentrations: more than 10 Bq uranium, 5 Bq Pb-210, and 0.3 Bq Ra-226 per kg. The uranium concentration exceeds normal concentrations 500-fold, the Pb-210 concentration 20-fold.
The Thuringian Geological Survey (TLUG ) is now investigating causes and impacts of these concentrations. (Ostthüringer Zeitung Aug. 15, 2002)

The ponds are located at the site of a former open pit uranium mine. The mine was in operation in the 1950s and later was used as a dump for mine waste. It has not been subject to Wismut's reclamation efforts. (Thüringer Allgemeine Aug. 27, 2002)

> See also: No remediation in sight for high uranium concentrations in village ponds impacted by Wismut legacies

 


 

Cleanup of radioactive mine waste used for road construction

80,000 tonnes of uranium mine waste material removed during road construction near Zwickau, Saxony

During construction work on the B 175 major road near Zwickau-Mosel, 80,000 tonnes of uranium mine waste material were discovered that had to be transported to a Wismut waste rock pile in Hartenstein-Alberoda for disposal. (Freie Presse Mar. 9, 2017)

Groups ask for more efforts to locate uranium mine waste material used for road construction in Thuringia

The Thuringian Green party and the Church Environmental Group of Ronneburg have asked the Thuringian state government to spend more efforts on locating the whereabouts of uranium mine waste material used for road construction and other purposes in Thuringia during the GDR era. So far, 370,000 tonnes have been disposed of, while the total amount used was around 1.9 million tonnes, according to government figures. (OTZ June 10, 2014)
> Download: Verwendung von radioaktiven Wismut-Schotter als Baumaterial in Thüringen , Kleine Anfrage der Abgeordneten Siegesmund (BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNEN) und Antwort des Thüringer Ministeriums für Landwirtschaft, Forsten, Umwelt und Naturschutz, Thüringer Landtag, Drucksache 5/7686, 17.04.2014 (146k PDF - in German)
> See also: Verwendung von radioaktivem Wismut-Schotter als Baumaterial in Thüringen, by Frank Lange, in: Strahlentelex Nr. 658-659, 5. Juni 2014, p.8-12

Residents worried about hazards from former use of uranium mine waste material for road construction

According to the Church Environmental Group of Ronneburg, up to 14 million tonnes of radioactive material originating from Wismut's Crossen (near Zwickau) waste rock pile have been used in road construction in the area before the political changes. In the residential area of Waldsachsen in the city of Meerane, for example, external radiation doses of up to 267 nSv/h have been found in streets, where natural background is only up to 95 nSv/h. Citizens now demand the removal of the contaminated material from residential areas. (Freie Presse Nov. 1, 2013)


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