Showdown Looms as Nuke Train Approaches German Dump
Published on Monday, November 12, 2001 by Agence France Presse
Showdown Looms as Nuke Train Approaches German Dump
A showdown between anti-nuclear activists and police intensified as a shipment of highly radioactive waste from France approached its destination at a storage dump in northern Germany.

The convoy was expected to arrive at the facility near the town of Gorleben early Tuesday, activists here said.

Anti-nuclear activists
Anti-nuclear activists stand on a rail track in Dumsdorf near Dannenberg November 12, 2001. Police fear thousands of demonstrators will seek to disrupt a shipment of six containers of German nuclear waste reprocessed in France due to return by rail to a storage facility at Gorleben, near Lueneburg. The shipment started on Sunday and is expected to arrive on Tuesday. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
On Monday evening, police said some 600 people stormed the tracks following a protest rally in the town of Hitzacker on the route to Gorleben, several hours before the train was to pass through. Following a number of warnings, police dragged demonstrators off the rails.

Greenpeace energy expert Veit Buerger told AFP that 16 people had been detained earlier Monday when a number of activists climbed trees next to the train tracks on the waste route, chained themselves to branches and attempted to hang a poster over the railway.

He said police had tracked them down with infrared cameras and dogs and foiled the operation.

Greenpeace spokeswoman Susanne Ochse said that the train's precise time of arrival would depend on the route it took -- a secret closely guarded by authorities who aim to avoid the kind of mass demonstrations and blockades that have caused lengthy delays to previous waste convoys.

A spokesman for the ecological group Robin Hood, Juergen Sattasri, hinted that its members would be out in force on the final stretch of the convoy's 600-kilometer (370-mile) odyssey through Germany: "We won't be sleeping tonight. We're going to see this through."

Several hundred demonstrators have turned out to this scenic region of northern Germany for what has become a 25-year-old tradition of cat-and-mouse games with police during shipments of nuclear waste to the Gorleben dump.

The turnout is markedly down from the last shipment in March, which drew up to 20,000 people.

Police attributed the change to a total ban on demonstrations near the route during the transport and new concerns such as the war in Afghanistan.

Environmentalists and citizens groups say they fear radiation leaks from the six containers carrying 67 tons of nuclear waste and the potential for a terrorist attack on the convoy.

Joachim Franklin, one of several officers running the 15,000-man police deployment in the region, said that authorities patrolling the railway the convoy will use had found a cement block filled with plastic pipes.

The discovery was made on the route between the northern city of Lueneburg and Dannenberg, where the waste containers are to be loaded from the train onto trucks for the journey to Gorleben.

It was the second such contraption found in as many days, and Franklin said it was similar to a block used by activists during the last waste shipment in March to bind themselves to the tracks and delay the convoy for nearly one full day.

"I can't say we have found everything that might be on the tracks," Franklin said. "But I believe we have done everything we can to be sure the shipment will go smoothly."

He added new police tactics of conflict management had proven effective in averting violence.

The train carrying the German waste left the La Hague nuclear reprocessing plant in northwest France on Sunday evening toward Gorleben and crossed the Franco-German border at about 2:00 pm (1300 GMT) Monday.

Police said 214 people had been detained from Saturday morning when the demonstrations began and that most had been released by late Monday.

French authorities said that six antinuclear demonstrators were detained in Hoenheim, a suburb of Strasbourg following protests there.

Germany is phasing out its nuclear power industry but has agreed to take back its waste treated abroad. The country has no nuclear waste treatment plants of its own and ships its refuse to centers in France and Britain.

Copyright © 2001 AFP