German protesters mobilise against nuclear waste train
Tens of thousands of people gathered in Dannenberg, northern Germany, Saturday many of them ready to take non-violent action to block a train of nuclear waste approaching from France.
The heavily guarded train carrying a cargo that activists say is the most radioactive ever crossed into Germany earlier Saturday and was expected at Danneberg Sunday.
Organisers said about 50,000 people -- a record number -- had turned out ahead of the arrival of the train and its 123 tonnes of radioactive waste.
In Dannenberg the cargo will be transferred into lorries for the final 20 kilometres (12 miles) to a storage facility at Gorleben.
A spokesman for anti-nuclear group X-Tausendmal Quer told AFP that thousands of campaigners were prepared to take part in non-violent action to obstruct the convoy.
There were a few minor scuffles between protesters and police Saturday and around 16,000 police have reportedly been mobilised to deal with protests in Germany.
The demonstrators there were of all ages, many of them carrying the red-and-yellow "Nuclear power, no thanks" banners used for decades by the movement.
Police put the turnout in the tens of thousands but Jochen Stay, spokesman for the anti-nuclear group Ausgestrahlt (Irradiated), said: "Our most optimistic estimates have been surpassed."
"It's no fun having to organise rallies like that in these conditions but the government's policy leaves us with no choice," he added, speaking from a cornfield on the outskirts of Dannenberg.
Germany's anti-nuclear campaigners have been outraged by a vote in parliament last week to extend the life of the country's 17 nuclear reactors by 12 years, although they were due to come offline in 2020.
Opinion polls show that most Germans were against parliament's decision.
A previous nuclear waste shipment sent over in 2008 was blocked for 14 hours by protesters, amid violent scenes.
Earlier Saturday, the train ran the gauntlet of hundreds of French protesters.
After switching routes overnight to avoid anti-nuclear protests, it arrived in the French border city of Strasbourg just after midday to switch locomotives and take on board a fresh escort of German riot police.
Then it crossed the Rhine at Kehl just outside the city, again surprising activists, who had prepared protests on another route further north.
Anti-nuclear campaigners had planned a series of demonstrations along the original route of the 14-wagon train, which is returning German nuclear waste for storage after it was treated in France by the Areva group.
Areva spokesman Christophe Neugnot dismissed concerns about possible leaks in transit, describing the train as a "fortress on wheels. The containers would survive a train hitting them at full speed."
Areva has also rejected the "most nuclear" tag for the shipment of waste, which was created during power generation in Germany.
It says this cargo is not as radioactive as the last load of waste they shipped back to Germany.
But a statement from French campaigners "Sortir du Nucleaire" (Get out of Nuclear) insisted: "This nuclear convoy, the most radioactive ever, exposes the population to excessive risks.
"There is a risk to lives in the short term in case of an accident, but also a long-term risk to their health," Sortir du Nucleaire said.
On Friday, activists chained themselves to train tracks a few hundred metres (yards) from Caen station in northwestern France, holding up the train for several hours before it resumed its journey to Germany.
Police arrested seven people, while three of those chained to the rails were taken to hospital "because they were burned during the extrication" a police source said, adding that the burns were "not serious".
The protesters had chained their arms inside metal tubes and concrete in order to make it difficult to be released.
This convoy is the 11th of its kind. Almost 16,000 police were deployed in Germany for the previous shipment in 2008.
© 2010 AFP