Nuclear waste train nears journey's end amid protests
A shipment of radioactive waste was nearing its final destination in Germany Monday after a five-day journey from France marked by sometimes violent clashes between police and protesters.
The train carrying 11 containers of radioactive nuclear waste arrived in the northern German town of Dannenberg shortly after 0400 GMT after running the gauntlet of protesters trying to block its journey.
The authorities were unloading the waste on to trucks for its final 20-kilometre (12-mile) trip by road to a storage facility in Gorleben, a process likely to take several hours.
Campaigners said the earliest the train could continue its journey was at 3:00 pm (1400 GMT) given the time it took to load up the wagons. The train left France on Wednesday.
Thousands of activists swarmed the tracks along the route near the train's final destination in Dannenberg and boasted that the odyssey had now topped the 92-hour record set during a shipment one year ago.
Environmentalists argue that the shipment is highly radioactive and dangerous for those along its route.
Tobias Riedl, from environmental pressure group Greenpeace, said the levels of radioactivity were 44 times that registered after March's nuclear disaster at Fukushima in Japan.
"Forty-four Fukushimas are rolling towards Gorleben. It's an incalculable risk for the population," he said.
During the journey, activists engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with police as they tried various stunts to delay the train, many chaining themselves to the tracks.
Police said they detained about 1,300 people, requiring tricky and time-consuming operations to free them before the train could slowly rumble on.
About 150 people were injured in clashes, most of them demonstrators, according to security forces quoted by German news agency DPA.
Monday's final road stage of the journey is also likely to be delayed by protest action, with campaigners already gathered near the Gorleben site.
Organisers said Sunday about 23,000 protestors had gathered in Dannenberg, while police put the number at 8,000. About 20,000 police had been deployed along the train's German route.
The waste had been produced in German reactors several years ago and then sent to France for reprocessing before beginning its around 1,200-kilometre return journey last week.
The protesters argue that the shipment by train of spent fuel rods is hazardous and note that Germany, like the rest of Europe, has no permanent storage site for the waste, which will remain dangerous for thousands of years.
They are also angry that a pledged German phase-out of nuclear power, hastily agreed this year in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, will take another decade to implement.
The demonstrators had travelled from across Germany as well as from Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Italy, organisers said.
Most of the protests have been peaceful.
But there were isolated outbreaks of violence Thursday and Friday near Gorleben where 10 masked rioters attacked police with bricks and smoke bombs before managing to escape.
Police said unidentified assailants hurling Molotov cocktails Friday damaged two patrol cars.
In November 2010, about 50,000 protesters delayed a similar shipment by a day. Since then, Berlin has agreed to shut down all 17 of the country's reactors by the end of 2022.
© 2011 AFP