Mayhem on the rails as nuclear load crosses Germany

Other News Materials 9 November 2008 23:54 (UTC +04:00)

Riot police clashed with hundreds of protesters Sunday in the north of Germany as the anti-nuclear movement tried to disrupt a shipment of spent radioactive fuel to a long-term storage site, dpa reported.

Elsewhere, wiring and signal gear along German railway lines were set on fire. Though most of the attacks were anonymous, police said it was likely the sabotage was the work of anti-nuclear militants.

As during 10 previous shipments of waste to Gorleben, a small town south of Hamburg, protesters aimed to obstruct the freight train carrying the waste.

At one point, 700 militants occupied a nearby railtrack, hurling large firecrackers at police, setting fire to bales of straw on the rails and beginning to wreck the track, according to police.

Riot police using batons dispersed the crowd back into woods near the town of Hitzacker. The fires were extinguished by police water-cannon and engineers began repairing the track damage.

At dusk Sunday, about 300 demonstrators sat down on two other stretches of track, but were described as more peaceful than the earlier group. They wore funny hats, blew bubbles and played bagpipe music as they were carried away, one by one, by police.

Police said their main concern was the militants still lurking in the woods.

"Some people are only here for the sake of fighting," said a police spokesman.

The train, loaded with 17 tons of waste pellets encapsulated in 100 tons of insulating glass, was already in northern Germany after a trip that began 1,000 kilometres away at a French factory on the Atlantic coast.

Three deliberate fires on Saturday in signalling equipment knocked out high-speed rail links between the capital Berlin and Hamburg.

Federal police said Sunday an anti-nuclear leaflet had been left at the scene of another fire the previous day, near Wiesbaden. At Kassel, central Germany, track wiring was destroyed in a fire Sunday, halting many passenger trains.

Protesters said that with 15,000 demonstrators waiting in cold and rain near Gorleben for the train, their anti-nuclear movement had surged up to a level of support not seen since 2001.

At Gorleben many tons of radioactive waste have been accumulated from German power stations after being sealed into glass at the factory in La Hague, France. Berlin hopes to ultimately move the waste long term into an old salt-mine.

The anti-nuclear movement seeks the immediate closure of all nuclear power stations and has been upset at debate in Germany about extending the stations' operating lives so as to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming.

The issue has become a live one in Germany after revelations that another salt-mine dump, near Wolfenbuettel, has developed leaks and cracks.

On Saturday, the freight train was delayed for about 12 hours by three militants who chained themselves to a lump of concrete under a track near the French border.

Police had to carefully dismantle the concrete to detach the trio, delaying the entire transport operation. Officials were expecting the waste to arrive at Hitzacker late in the night and to be taken by road to Gorleben on Monday.