Monday, December 5, 2011

Following a nuclear train

126 hours from La Hague to Gorleben; the longest ever nuclear waste transport from Germany to France

This is a retrospective on the past 10 years, during which I have covered the nuclear waste transportation from France to Germany many times. The German nuclear waste from power plants is transported in Castor (Cask for Storage and Transport of Radioactive material) containers by train to the northern German interim storage facility of Gorleben.

As the train came closer to its final destination, I would end up with only a few hours sleep, mile-long marches on foot through forests and fields and never-ending police checkpoints. But in the end each castor transport reached its intended destination.

Nuclear waste from German nuclear power plants was reprocessed at the French plant at La Hague. The train used to transport it was protected in Germany by up to 20,000 policemen. Each transportation was different, but the pictures each year were very similar. There were blockades on the railway tracks, activists chaining themselves to the tracks, peaceful and violent protests along the route and the waiting patiently for hours for the train to move further along.

But this year the protest was very violent. Thousands of activists blocked the transport route between Danneberg and Gorleben and they were displaced by police using water cannons. Local farmers constructed a concrete pyramid, which stood on the tracks. Four of them chained themselves together with a sophisticated mechanism. Specialist police tried for hours to open the mechanism and to clear the railway tracks but after more than 10 hours they gave up. The activists had won.

Ten years ago I took a very special picture, which I will never forget. An anti-nuclear activist managed to climb one of the castor containers forcing the train to stop for a while before he was removed by the police.

Nowhere in the world are anti-nuclear protest so symbolic and visible as in Gorleben. But in the end even in this agricultural region the last castor container still reached its final destination after 126 hours and 1200 kilometers (745 miles).

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