Activists in Germany block nuclear waste convoy

9th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Thousands of anti-nuclear protestors were in a tense standoff with police Tuesday blocking a convoy of 11 lorries carrying nuclear waste destined for a German storage facility.

The shipment of 123 tonnes of radioactive waste had arrived by rail on Monday from France to the northern German town of Dannenberg and was transferred to the lorries for the final 20 kilometres (12-miles) journey by road to the storage site at Gorleben.

But the road convoy had been unable to set off because five Greenpeace activists had used a container lorry to block the road leading from Dannenberg railway station to Gorleben, witnesses said.

Further along the route police had already begun to clear some of the thousands more activists who were lying in wait to prevent the convoy from reaching the temporary storage facility at a disused salt mine in Gorleben.

At one point along the route 2,000 sheep and 50 goats were let loose onto the road, according to a spokeswoman for activist group Citizens' Initiative Luechow-Dannenberg.

"The animals just wanted to join in a bit," she said.

After a dramatic day of cat-and-mouse on Sunday, during which some protestors fought pitched battles with baton-wielding police, the nuclear train finally crawled into Dannenberg station early Monday under heavy security.

Shipments of radioactive waste to Gorleben regularly attract protests, but this year they have been particularly strong, fired up by fury at Chancellor Angela Merkel's aim to postpone the deadline for Germany to abandon nuclear power.

Activists hailed the frequent stoppages as a success for their cause. "Practically everything got delayed... in the end, it was about sending a signal," one female protester told AFP.

"Not only is the shipment blocked, so are the government's plans," said Luise Neumann-Cosel, a spokeswoman for protest group X-Tausendmalquer.

"We are sending out a signal to the government that we cannot be ignored."

During the rail journey from France where the German nuclear waste had been treated, activists staged sit-ins on the line, removed stones supporting the tracks and abseiled from bridges into the train's path.

Protest group Castor Schottern said two demonstrators were seriously injured in clashes with police on Sunday. Twenty-nine had head cuts, three people had concussion and there were 16 broken fingers, it said.

The group said its supporters had suffered around 1,000 injuries in all, mainly to the eyes as police deployed pepper spray and tear gas.

Around 20,000 police were mobilised for this shipment, the 12th, the head of the DPolG police union Rainer Wendt said. The police operation has cost around 50 million euros (70 million dollars), authorities said.

The GdP, another police union, said that officers had used up their "final resources" dealing with the protests so far.

Germany, in common with other European countries, has no permanent storage site for radioactive waste. The European Commission last week moved to press member states to solve the problem.

Gorleben, a former salt mine, is one of two main "intermediary" storage sites for highly radioactive nuclear materials, and government experts are continuing to assess whether it is suitable as a permanent site.

Merkel wants to extend the lifetime of Germany's 17 reactors by up to 14 years beyond a scheduled shutdown of around 2020 as a "bridge" until renewable sources like solar and wind power produce more electricity.

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Berlin in September against the extension, and protestors have warned of more to come.

Sigmar Gabriel, head of the opposition Social Democrats, said the government had re-opened a "big conflict in society."

© 2010 AFP

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