Nuclear waste train nears journey's end amid protests

28th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

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 before dawn after running a gauntlet of protesters trying to block its progress along the 1,200-kilometre (750-mile) route.

The authorities then unloaded the waste on to trucks for its final 20-kilometre leg by road to a storage facility in Gorleben, a former salt mine, with the shipment due to wrap up later Monday.

"1,300 of the 1,800 at Gorleben cleared," anti-nuclear group X-tausendmal quer wrote in a text message, describing the last pocket of resistance against police.

"Those who refuse to walk feeling pain," it said, repeating a complaint of police roughness against demonstrators.

Medical services volunteers treating injured demonstrators said 321 had been hurt during the protests, four of them seriously. Police declined to say how many officers were wounded in operations against activists.

This 13th shipment to Gorleben since 1995 has far overshot a 92-hour record set one year ago.

The waste was 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 detained about 1,300 people, requiring tricky and time-consuming operations to free tethered demonstrators before the train could slowly rumble on.

Organisers said about 23,000 protesters had gathered in Dannenberg at the weekend, 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.

This is expected to be the last such shipment from France. But from 2014, nuclear waste will be transported to Germany for storage from a British processing plant at Sellafield in northwest England.

© 2011 AFP

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