Massive protests as nuclear waste train reaches Germany

Saturday, November 6, 2010

BERLIN - A train transporting nuclear waste from France crossed the border into Germany Saturday, where tens of thousands of anti-nuclear activists were demonstrating and attempting to block the tracks.

Witnesses reported that police had begun forcibly removing people from the tracks so the train could pass.

Police reported that at least 10,000 people began demonstrating in the northern German town of Gorleben, the destination of the nuclear waste transport. Activists also drove more than 600 tractors to the protest site.

Leaders of Germany’s opposition Green Party and Left Party also took part in the protest. Germany has long history of opposition to nuclear power, dating back to the 1970s.

Organisers expect up to 40,000 anti-nuclear protesters over the course of the weekend, which would make it the country’s largest ever demonstration against the so-called Castor (cask for storage and transport of radioactive material) transports.

The train, which left a French reprocessing plant Friday, is carrying 123 tonnes of spent radioactive fuel rods from German nuclear reactors. Germany must accept it back, now that it has been cooled and fused inside blocks of glass.

Around 16,500 police officers have been assigned to protect cargo as the train passes on its way to the northern town of Dannenberg over the weekend.

The train was halted for several hours in northern France Friday, as protesters chained themselves to the tracks.

Anti-nuclear activists worry over the safety of the warehouse in the northern town of Gorleben where the waste is to be stored while a long-term repository is built.

Nuclear opponents also fear that Gorleben will effectively turn into a permanent storage site for the solid iron containers holding the nuclear waste, and have expressed doubt over government proposals to bury it 860 metres deep in a Gorleben rock salt formation.

Green Party parliamentary leader Juergen Trittin, who is to join the protest, called Saturday for demonstrators to remain peaceful.

“Anything else would be highly damaging for our cause,” Trittin told daily Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said activists’ plans to sabotage from the railway tracks were, “not a peaceful demonstration, but a criminal offence.”

The protest is also directed at Merkel’s centre-right government, which decided to extend the life-spans of Germany’s 17 nuclear power stations by an average of 12 years beyond a previous 2022 deadline.

The decision to extend nuclear power generation was passed last week in the lower house of parliament, where Merkel’s coalition has the majority.

The last such transport operation in 2008, was delayed by a day due to anti-nuclear protests.

This year’s delivery is expected to arrive near Gorleben late Sunday, where the 11 containers will be lifted onto lorries for the remaining 20-km journey to the storage site.

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