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Agence France Presse

Thousands Await Nuclear Waste Train in Germany


Anti-nuclear protesters at Harlingen, Germany occupy a rail line that a nuclear waste train is scheduled to use (AFP, John Macdougall)

DANNENBERG, Germany — Thousands of anti-nuclear protestors awaited the arrival Saturday of a train carrying radioactive nuclear waste from France to northern Germany, where it will be stored.

Organisers expected some 20,000 protesters to make their way to the town of Dannenberg, where 11 containers of German nuclear waste reprocessed in France are due to be unloaded from the train.

They will then be transported by heavy goods trucks the final 20 kilometres (12 miles) to Gorleben, where the waste will be stored.

Protesters were making their way to Dannenberg, mainly from Germany but also from Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Italy, organisers said.

Buses had left for the venue from more than 150 German towns.

The train's controversial load represented "44 times Fukushima," according to Greenpeace, whose spokeswoman Matthias Edler said a single container could unleash "four times the radioactivity released" by the stricken Japanese nuclear reactor.

A number of largely peaceful protests have slowed the progress of the train since it left Normandy in France on Wednesday.

Activists blocked the train tracks at the town of Neunkirchen Friday afternoon where the train stopped for five hours shortly after crossing the border to change engines.

Television pictures showed activists removing ballast stones from under the tracks.

There were isolated outbreaks of violence on Thursday and Friday in Metzingen, near Gorleben, where 10 masked people attacked police with bricks and smoke bombs but managed to escape arrest, said an AFP photographer at the scene.

Police said unknown assailants had set fire to two patrol cars.

Also on Thursday, police deployed water cannons and tear gas against a few hundred protesters who tried to block the road near Gorleben, resulting in a handful of arrests and light injuries on both sides.

The number of protestors expected at Dannenberg is less than half the number that turned out a year ago when Germany was at the height of a debate over nuclear power in the country.

In November 2010, tens of thousands of activists protested another shipment and delayed that train by a whole day.

Since then, in the wake of March's nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, the German government has decided to phase out its use of nuclear power by 2022, and thus bring to an end the controversial practice of sending radioactive waste overland to France for reprocessing.

"It's like a friend telling you that he will stop smoking in ten years," said Jochen Stay, spokesman for the anti-nuclear body Ausgestrahlt (Radiated).

"You are not going to congratulate them just yet."

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 June, Chancellor Angela Merkel's government agreed to halt all German reactors by 2022, forcing energy suppliers to close the plants.

But Germany is still debating the problem of storing nuclear waste, which has potentially harmful effects.

Environmentalists say that nuclear radiation in the Gorleben zone exceeds the authorised levels.

About 20,000 police have been deployed along the train's German route.

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