Nuclear waste convoy nears final destination
A convoy of highly radioactive nuclear waste began Tuesday its final journey to its storage site in Germany, following days of furious protests that massively delayed the shipment.
The 11 containers, carrying 123 tonnes of the radioactive material, were loaded onto lorries for the 20-kilometre (12-mile) trip by road to where it will be stored, in Gorleben, northern Germany.
The shipment left France on Friday and endured a tortuous 67-hour journey by train as activists did everything they could to delay its progress including removing stones supporting train tracks and abseiling from bridges.
It arrived in Dannenberg near Gorleben on Monday and was transferred to lorries.
Activists had deployed a container lorry of their own to block the exit, witnesses said. Further along the route, police cleared thousands of demonstrators seeking to prevent the convoy from reaching its destination.
Protesters hailed the huge delay as a triumph.
"The decisive mass protests of the last few days is a strong political signal," said a spokeswoman for the X-tausendmalquer activist group.
"The police can clear the street, but the government cannot clear up the conflict," she added.
After a dramatic day of cat-and-mouse on Sunday, during which some masked activists fought pitched battles with baton-wielding police enveloped in clouds of tear gas, the protests were peaceful.
Shipments 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.
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.
To add to the police's problems, at one point 2,000 sheep and 50 goats wandered 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.
Gorleben 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.
© 2010 AFP