Published on Tuesda, March 27, 2001 by Reuters
German Atom Waste Train Rolls Towards Showdown with Activists
by Mark John
DANNENBERG, Germany (Reuters) - A heavily guarded train carrying nuclear waste
has rumbled across Germany towards a showdown with thousands of environmental
activists who defied a massive police presence to protest along the track.
Carrying radioactive slag left from reprocessing in France of fuel rods from German reactors, the train was due in Dannenberg, south of Hamburg, by Tuesday evening. There its six armoured containers, known as Castors, were to be loaded on to trucks for the short road trip to the Gorleben interim storage plant on Wednesday.
One group of Greenpeace activists in inflatable power boats evaded police breached security on Tuesday to protest on a rail bridge they said was too weak. Dozens were detained after sit-ins at points along the tracks.
Protest groups, the train, police and the media engaged in a game of cat and mouse on Tuesday afternoon as the transport took unexpected routes across the heart of Germany. It had crossed the French border under cover of darkness just before midnight on Monday.
Under pressure from France to ease a backlog of German waste at its La Hague reprocessing plant near Cherbourg, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder lifted the transport ban imposed on safety grounds in 1998. About two cargoes a year are now planned.
Environment Minister Juergen Trittin, one of Schroeder's ecologist Greens coalition allies and himself once a protester at Gorleben, called for calm. He sees the waste shipments as an integral part of deal he struck with the electricity industry last year to phase out Germany's 19 reactors by about 2025.
But protesters say their aim is to make handling the waste so expensive that the industry shuts down its reactors now.
"The many protest actions that are accompanying the atom transport are a clear sign that nuclear energy is not socially accepted," Veit Buerger from Greenpeace said in a statement.
Nearly 200 demonstrators were detained on Monday around Gorleben, where organisers expect up to 10,000 to try to block the trucks driving the 25 km (16 miles) from the Dannenberg railhead on Wednesday. Last time, police used water cannon.
With no reprocessing facilities of its own, Germany sends spent fuel rods to France where most of the uranium is recovered for re-use. The small amount of waste is superheated into a form of stable glass which is sealed in metal canisters for disposal.
Each of the train's six wagon-sized, white Castors -- the name is short for Casks for Storage and Transport of Radioactive Material -- holds 28 such canisters and weighs over 100 tonnes.
The radioactive canisters will be kept in warehouses at Gorleben pending a decision in several years time on their final disposal. One possibility is burial in a nearby salt mine.
Copyright © 2001 Reuters Limited