Nuclear waste train nears journey's end amid protests
A shipment of radioactive waste was nearing its final destination in Germany Monday on a five-day odyssey from France marred by sometimes violent clashes between police and demonstrators.
The train with 11 containers of nuclear waste arrived in the northern town of Dannenberg shortly after 0400 GMT after running a gauntlet of protesters trying to block its progress along the 1,200-kilometre (750-mile) route.
The authorities were unloading the waste on to trucks for its final 20-kilometre leg by road to a storage facility in Gorleben, a former salt mine, a process likely to take several hours.
"Time is not an important factor in this operation," local police chief Friedrich Niehoerster told reporters, stressing safety concerns surrounding the delicate procedure as he predicted further disruptions by activists.
Campaigners said the earliest the train could continue its journey was at 3:00 pm (1400 GMT). The train left France Wednesday.
Thousands of activists swarmed the tracks along the route near the train's final destination in Dannenberg and boasted Sunday that this 13th such shipment to Gorleben since 1995 had already topped a 92-hour record set one year ago.
The waste had been produced in German reactors several years ago and then sent to France for reprocessing.
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 in Japan, will take another decade to implement.
Tobias Riedl, from environmental pressure group Greenpeace, said the levels of radioactivity in the containers were 44 times those registered at Fukushima.
"Forty-four Fukushimas are rolling towards Gorleben. It's an incalculable risk for the population," he said.
Germany had already decided in 2005 to stop shipping radioactive waste overland for reprocessing in favour of permanent storage.
However it is contractually obliged to repatriate waste sent abroad before that date and has yet to designate a final storage site.
During the journey, activists battled police as they tried various stunts to delay the train, some chaining themselves to the tracks.
Police said they detained about 1,300 people, requiring tricky and time-consuming operations to free tethered demonstrators before the train could slowly rumble on.
Monday's final road stage of the journey was also set 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 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