Germany's efforts to clean-up old lignite mines in former eastern states means "Europe's biggest environmental project" is half completed, environment minister Angela Merkel said today. She was launching a two-day German-Czech workshop on clean-up techniques for opencast lignite mines which aims to facilitate information and experience swapping between the two countries. It is the first time that Germany and the Czech Republic have cooperated on lignite mine clean-up, which is a huge problem for many central and eastern European countries as well as in Germany. In eastern Germany, the mines have left a legacy of 60,000 hectares of unusable land. The total restoration cost will amount to DM16bn (Ecu8bn), the government estimates, of which DM8bn has already been spent by the federal government and eastern states. To further complicate the clean-up, some of the old mines were turned into hazardous waste landfills. These urgently need to be made safe before groundwater, diverted during mining operations, be gins to return, an environment ministry spokesperson told ENDS Daily. Before German unification in 1990, East Germany produced some 300m tonnes of lignite a year, but this has since fallen to 60-70m tonnes.
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