GERMANY: Protesters delay nuclear waste train

November 17, 1993

Diet Simon, Bonn

While both major parties making up German Chancellor Angela Merkel's new "grand coalition" government — the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats — are committed, on paper, to the gradual closing down of the country's 17 nuclear power stations, the problem of disposing of nuclear waste is becoming more acute.

Experts have been saying for 20 years that the proposed final repository for the waste at the village of Gorleben, in northern Germany, is highly unsuitable because it is in contact with ground water, which would become radioactive.

The previous federal government, a coalition of the Social Democrats and the Greens, suspended exploration of a Gorleben salt deposit and promised to search for alternative sites. This didn't happen.

With every new load of waste going into a light-construction storage hall in Gorleben, protesters against the waste dump argue that pressure grows to ultimately put that waste into the leaking salt mine. They point out that the government is unwilling to spend money on exploring alternatives, and that Merkel is under pressure from the industry to deliver on her election promise to keep nuclear power stations going longer than the industry agreed with the previous government, which was a total closure by 2020.

Every year around 50 million euros is spent in Germany to police the transport, by rail and road, of German nuclear waste from a reprocessing plant in France to Gorleben.

The radioactive waste containers, carrying up to 170 tonnes of treated nuclear waste, pass through the central railway stations of cities where hundreds of thousands of people live.

For the waste transportation operation, the government mobilises 15,500 police from all over the country to escort the waste convoy.

On November 22, pro-environment protesters attempted to block the path of the train, with its 12 containers of processed nuclear waste. One of the protest leaders, Susanne Kamien of the Wendland Farmers Emergency Group, told BBC World News that protesters had delayed the train for around 11 hours on its journey from the La Hague reprocessing plant in north-western France.

The protesters said they had succeeded in sending a clear message to Merkel. "If they simply carry on making nuclear waste, there will continue to be resistance here", said Jochen Stay from the coalition of anti-nuclear activists.

During the last such shipment to Germany in November 2004, a protester was killed when he was sucked under a train in the eastern French city of Nancy.

From Green Left Weekly, November 30, 2005.
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