German anti-nuke protesters, cops clash
Harlingen - German police on Sunday battled thousands of anti-nuclear protesters, many chained to railway tracks, who were hobbling the shipment of radioactive waste home from a French treatment centre.
Police moved in around 01:00 GMT to tracks around the northern town of Harlingen, telling at least 3 500 demonstrators who had tethered themselves to the rail line to clear out, according to AFP reporters at the scene.
With most activists remaining where they were, the police began to remove them one by one two hours later. No violence was reported.
The protesters argue that the shipment by train of spent nuclear fuel rods across 1 200km from a reprocessing centre in northwestern France is hazardous.
They note that Germany, like the rest of Europe, has no permanent storage site for the waste, which will remain dangerous for thousands of years.
And they are angry that a pledged phase-out of nuclear power, hastily agreed this year in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan, will take another decade to implement.
"It's like a friend telling you that he will stop smoking in 10 years," said Jochen Stay, spokesperson for the anti-nuclear body Ausgestrahlt (Radiated), which has mobilised protesters against the shipment.
"You are not going to congratulate them just yet."
Harlingen lies some 20km from the train's final destination of Dannenberg where the 11 containers of waste are due to be unloaded.
20 000 police
Organisers said about 23 000 protesters had gathered in Dannenberg, while police put the number at 8 000. The train was expected to arrive at Dannenberg in broad daylight, for security reasons, on Sunday at the earliest.
About 20 000 police have been deployed along the train's German route.
From Dannenberg, the waste will be transported by heavy goods trucks the final 20km to Gorleben on the River Elbe, where it will be stored.
Protesters turned out from across Germany but also from Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Italy, organisers said.
The train's controversial load represented "44 times Fukushima", according to ecology group Greenpeace, which 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.
"We've had camp fires, music, and brought in food" for the protesters, an organiser, Mechthild Magerl, told AFP.
There were isolated outbreaks of violence on Thursday and Friday 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.
Patrol cars set alight
Police said unknown assailants hurling Molotov cocktails on Friday had set fire to two patrol cars.
The number of protesters is around half the number that turned out a year ago when Germany was at the height of a debate over nuclear power.
In November 2010, about 50 000 activists protested another shipment and delayed that train by an entire day.
Since then, Berlin agreed to shut down all 17 of the country's reactors by the end of 2022.
Germany had already decided in 2005 to stop shipping radioactive waste overland for reprocessing in favour of permanent storage.
However it is contractually obliged to repatriate waste sent abroad before that date and has yet to designate a final storage site.
Environmentalists say that nuclear radiation in the Gorleben zone exceeds the authorised levels.
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.