In the largest and most violent anti-nuclear protests since 2001 in Germany, activists set fire to barricades on the tracks in the north of the country, which police extinguished with a water cannon.
Railroad crews scrambled to repair the damage overnight to allow the shipment of 23 tonnes of treated, but still extremely toxic, nuclear waste to continue on to the Gorleben disposal centre.
The train had resumed its journey after being stopped for nearly 12 hours Saturday near the border by three protesters, German police said. About 15,000 demonstrators rallied along the tracks, most of them in the Gorleben region, joined by a caravan of 300 tractors festooned with anti-nuclear banners. Some 16,000 police were deployed across Germany to ensure the load reached the dump safely.
Anti-nuclear group x-tausendmal quer, which organised the demonstrations, argues that the shipments are dangerous and that Germany has not found any permanent solution for what to do from the waste from its nuclear reactors.
“This is a strong sign of the renaissance of the anti-nuclear movement,” group spokesman Jochen Stay said of the weekend protests. The organisation calls for the quick phase-out of the country’s nuclear power plants.
The German government has approved plans to mothball the last of its 17 reactors by about 2020. But Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for slowing down the process over fears it will be impossible to slash greenhouse gas emissions without nuclear energy, which emits no carbon dioxide and produces a quarter of the country’s electricity.
The opposition Greens and the hard-line socialist Left party called on their members to join the protests.
Polls show most Germans oppose nuclear power but skyrocketing energy costs have sparked the calls to reconsider the phase-out. The waste’s odyssey began Friday at the nuclear waste retreatment plant at La Hague in Normandy. The trainload is the 11th of its kind to date.
The cargo was halted Saturday for half the day on the French side of the frontier at the station in Lauterbourg when three German militants, two men and a woman, jammed their arms into a block of concrete hidden under the track. Police eventually managed to dislodge them.
About 500 demonstrators took part in a sit-in Saturday night at the site. Police reported finding fire accelerant and damage at signal stations which hindered other rail traffic. The shipment was to reach the northern city of Lüneburg late Sunday, 12 hours behind schedule.
The cargo will be offloaded onto trucks in the town of Dannenberg 50 kilometre (30 miles) away and is expected to finish the last 20 kilometres of the journey to Gorleben Monday.