Nuclear Waste Arrives in Germany

A convoy of highly radioactive waste crawled into its final destination Tuesday after unprecedented protests that activists said would further energize Germany’s growing anti-nuclear movement.

“(The shipment) may have arrived but the government is further than ever from its aim of getting people in Germany to accept nuclear power,” Florian Kubitz from protest group Robin Wood said.

“We are going to draw new strength from these protests and feel we have been supported by a broad and decisive movement.”

The 123 tonnes of waste, originally from a German nuclear power station, took 92 hours to make it to the Gorleben storage facility in the north of the country from a processing plant in France, by train and then by road.

Such shipments regularly attract protests, but this year the delay was the longest ever with demonstrators wishing to display their opposition to government plans to postpone the date when Germany abandons nuclear power.

“The courage and enthusiasm that so many people have shown really is amazing,” said veteran Gorleben activist and Rebecca Harms, a European lawmaker from the ecologist Greens.

The protesters — who numbered 20,000 to 25,000, police said — were mostly young, but there were also older people in a country where many voters are uneasy about nuclear power. Local farmers put 40-50 tractors in the convoy’s path.

“This year, we have done things that I have never seen before,” said Bettina Richter, a 37-year-old therapist who said she was a veteran of such protests.

Protest stunts included sit-ins, abseiling from bridges into the train’s path, removing stones supporting train tracks and even shepherding a herd of sheep and goats into the convoy’s way.

“I am overwhelmed by what has happened,” said Luise Neumann-Cosel from protest group X-Tausendmalquer.

“The protests included lots of people who have never done anything like this before, people prepared … to spend nights outside in the bitter cold to give a clear signal they don’t agree with nuclear power.”

Around 20,000 police, many of them working long hours, were deployed in an operation that cost around 50 million euros, according to the police union.

They said around 1,300 people were taken into custody and eight were formally arrested.

Monday and Tuesday were peaceful, but Sunday saw violent clashes, with masked activists fighting pitched battles with baton-wielding police enveloped in clouds of tear gas, and setting fire to a police vehicle.

Activists said Monday that close to 1,000 people had eye irritations from pepper spray and tear gas. Around 30 had minor injuries including head cuts and fingers broken.

Police said that 78 officers received injuries.

“The vast majority of demonstrators were peaceful,” said Uwe Schuenemann, interior minister of Lower Saxony state. “But if demonstrators used violence against police, officers reacted decisively.”

Germany, like other European Union countries, has no permanent storage site for radioactive waste but is conducting a study to see whether Gorleben, a former salt mine, could be suitable.

Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to extend the lifetime of Germany’s 17 reactors by up to 14 years beyond a scheduled shutdown of around 2020 as a “bridge” until renewable sources like solar and wind power produce more electricity.

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Berlin in September against the move. A survey in September showed 59 percent of respondents opposed the extension, with just 37 percent in favour.

“The protests in Gorleben show Angela Merkel has in fact won little with her nuclear policy and lost a lot politically,” the influential news magazine Spiegel said on its website.

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