German police, activists brace for nuclear finale
A train carrying nuclear waste massively delayed by angry protests completed its journey to Germany on Monday, setting up a final showdown before the radioactive cargo is stored underground.
The consignment of 123 tonnes of waste from a French processing plant finally arrived in Dannenberg, northern Germany, on Monday morning after police spent the night removing some 3,000 protestors blocking the tracks.
The 11 white containers must now be loaded onto lorries -- which could take up to 15 hours, police said -- for the final 20-kilometre (12-mile) stretch by road to the storage facility in nearby Gorleben.
But after a weekend of large-scale and sometimes violent protests, which saw riot police charging demonstrators, around 1,500 people including local farmers with tractors aimed to block access to the underground facility, police said.
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 when Germany abandons nuclear power.
"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."
In the 1,000-kilometre (620-mile), 67-hour journey from France, the activists did everything in their power to delay the train, including sitting on the rails and removing stones supporting the tracks.
Two protestors even abseiled from a bridge and remained dangling in the train's path until police removed them.
Protesters and police were injured in Sunday's clashes, a police spokesman said in the northwestern German town of Lueneburg. Several hundred people were detained overnight but released once the train had passed.
Around 20,000 police were mobilised for this shipment, the 12th, the head of the police union DPolG, Rainer Wendt, said. The police operation has cost around 50 million euros (70 million dollars), authorities said.
Gorleben is a temporary storage site for radioactive waste, although the government is conducting a study to see whether it could hold the waste for the thousands of years needed for it to become safe.
Germany, in common with other European countries, has no permanent storage site. The EU Commission last week moved to press member states to solve the problem.
Merkel's centre-right government wants to extend the lifetime of Germany's 17 reactors by up to 14 years beyond a scheduled shutdown of around 2020.
The lower house of parliament passed a bill to this effect last month. But the legislation could still face a tough fight in the upper house, where Merkel's alliance lost its majority in May, as well as court challenges.
Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Berlin in September against the extension, and protesters have warned of more to come.
© 2010 AFP