One of the most controversial places in all of Germany right now is an abandoned salt mine in Asse, just southwest of Braunschweig, where 120,000 containers of weak to middle-strength radioactive waste is stored. And now there is speculation that some of that material could be left over from Nazi atomic experiments.
The catalyst for the speculation is an old report in the Hannoverschen Allgemeinen Zeitung dating from July 29, 1974 that quotes a deputy manager of the Asse storage facility stating that radioactive waste from the last war had been put there in 1967.
Specifically, the waste was uranium said to have played a role in developing the German atomic bomb. The manager allegedly went on to say: We had to go and get waste from concrete bunkers near Munich, where it had originally been deposited. A radical anti-nuclear power opponent recently came across the forgotten newspaper report and, assuming the information was a major revelation, brought it to the attention of German Green party politicians.
Asked about the speculation that Nazi-era nuclear waste was indeed in Asse, the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) stated that they have no knowledge of waste from Nazi research stocked there. And assuming it were, whether or not some of the material could have been used during the process of developing an atomic bomb could not be ascertained based on available records.
The magnitude of the Nazi atomic bomb project during the Second World War has, in any case, been overstated. It is true that towards the end of the war Hitler and his Minister of Propoganda Joseph Goebbels often mentioned that a new miracle weapon would soon be available, yet all internal documents from the period show that their public statements had little real foundation. The top echelons of the Third Reich didnt have a clue how difficult the road to nuclear fission weapons would be.
Compared to the American atomic bomb program known as the Manhattan Project, the German Uranium Project run by Nobel prize winner Werner Heisenberg was a paltry undertaking, with only 12 scientists and insufficient raw materials, in the spring of 1945, to be able to get a reactor going. In late April 1945, when American specialists located the research facility in Haigerloch, Swabia, they found 664 uranium cubes that had been hidden nearby and an empty reactor vessel. No chain reaction had taken place -- and whether research got any further at a site in Gottow, near Berlin, as some have claimed, has never been established.
Economics historian Ernst Peter Fischer says that the claim that German physicists in 1941 were looking at a clear road to the atomic bomb" did not reflect reality; in fact, Heisenberg was clearly mistaken and may have been lying to himself as much as he was to his entourage.
At wars end, specialists from the US Armys secret services transported all elements of the German atomic program found in West Germany to the United States -- including many of the physicists whod been working on it. Whatever was stocked in those bunkers near Munich, it is highly unlikely that it was related to the Nazi Uranium Project. As long as all we know about supposed Nazi nuclear waste in Asse involves the vague reminiscences of a former storage facility employee, the case will remain very far from a major revelation.
Read the original article in German