Several hundred anti-nuclear activists traveling on more than 200 tractors played cat-and-mouse with police using a series of road blockades to protest the impending arrival of a shipment of atomic waste from France.
Police spokesman Bernd Schaffran said that about 850 people had staged short, peaceful protests throughout the day in and around Dannenberg in northern German town on the waste route and that most were broken up quickly.
Authorities said new laws, passed after demonstrators caused a nuclear waste carrying train to be delayed by 17 hours in March, seemed to have calmed the intensity of the protests.
Anti-nuclear protesters carry signs reading "Gorleben" in Nebenstedt near Dannenberg, northern Germany, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2001, the day before a transport with nuclear waste is expected to start from French La Hague to the nuclear interim storage plant at nearby Gorleben. Thousands of anti nuclear protesters are expected to demonstrate against the transport that is protected by around 15,000 police officers. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Activists and police were bracing themselves for more action on Monday, after the news was received that the train carrying at total of 67.2 tons of nuclear waste in six containers left on time at 1820 GMT.
There was some confusion as to what time it would reach its destination of Gorleben to the west of Berlin, with German activists saying they thought it would arrive by 1100 GMT on Monday, while the French state nuclear company Cogema said the train would only reach the French/German border at 1550 GMT.
Around 20 French demonstrators lined the tracks from the railway station at Valognes in Normandy, and carried lit torches, as the train pulled out.
Greenpeace's French branch, which organized the demonstration said that the train carried radiation equivalent to two nuclear reactors.
Michel Pouilloux, the manager of the La Hague reprocessing plant which treated the waste, stressed the safety of the operation, saying the container design had been tested by having a train driven at 140 kilometers per hour (87.5 miles per hour) crash into them.
The German activists -- a motley band of local farmers, teenagers with dreadlocks and veteran environmentalists -- have planned major protests along the route of the highly radioactive waste shipment.
Protest organizers said some 2,000 participants had arrived amid chilly weather and a persistent drizzle, following an antinuclear demonstration on Saturday they said drew some 10,000 people.
The six containers of nuclear waste, produced at German power plants and treated in France, are to be taken on a 600-kilometer (370-mile) journey under massive police presence.
They are to arrive at a storage dump near the northern German town of Gorleben.
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.
Throughout this scenic rural region of northern Germany, farmhouses and street signs have been emblazoned with the letter "X", the symbol of the antinuclear movement.
Some 18,000 police officers have been deployed nationwide to protect the shipment, the second such convoy this year.
Schaffran said that far fewer activists had arrived at the scene compared to the last shipment in March, when several thousand demonstrators descended on the scene and a handful chained themselves to the tracks on the convoy route, causing a 17-hour delay in the shipment.
He said police had removed a large concrete block filled with plastic tubes that had been found on the tracks Sunday between the towns of Lueneburg and Wendisch Evern, similar to the contraption used by activists in March to bind themselves.
Environmental organizations and citizens groups have for years demanded that the shipments be stopped due to the risk of radiation leaks.
In light of the anti-US terrorist assault on September 11, protesters are also warning that the convoy could now be the target of a terrorist plot and have pledged to try to block the convoy.
"We've been telling them for years that the waste containers would not be secure if an airplane or something else crashed into them," said a 44-year-old activist who asked only to be identified as George.
"Since the attacks (in the United States) some people are starting to wake up to the danger."
The transport ministry announced Sunday that air traffic would be restricted in the airspace above the shipment -- precautions it said were routine for nuclear waste convoys.
Copyright © 2001 AFP