30,000 police to accompany waste train across country


GERMANY was preparing last night for its biggest police operation since the second World War after the government refused to bow to protesters opposing a shipment of nuclear waste.

Some 30,000 police officers will accompany six containers of radioactive nuclear waste on a train journey across Germany from the Neckerwestheim power station in the south west to Gorleben in the north.

The Interior Minister, Mr Manfred Kanther, yesterday accused opposition politicians of indirectly provoking violence by calling on the public to protest against the shipment.

"The government will not be brought to its knees by violence. The government wants no test of strength between perpetrators of violence and the state but we will not shy away if it comes to that," he said.

Anti nuclear protesters have attacked railway lines along the route to Gorleben in recent weeks and painted slogans on public buildings throughout the country. Signal boxes along the line were set on fire yesterday and some railway traffic lights were placed permanently on red.

Hundreds of schoolchildren are occupying school buildings near Gorleben to prevent them being used as temporary barracks for the extra police. Almost every shop and business in the district is displaying posters protesting against the arrival of the nuclear waste and the local mayor is backing the protesters.

The shipment will be assembled in Neckarwestheim today and set off on its six day journey to Gorleben on Monday. Police from all over the country are being drafted in to protect the convoy, prompting the head of the German policed union to appeal to demonstrators not to place his colleagues' safety at risk for the sake of their ideals.

But he also condemned the scale of the police operation ordered by the government and expressed concern that police officers could suffer health damage from the radioactive material.

Environmentalists say the shipment, which includes two containers of nuclear waste from France, is dangerous, expensive and unnecessary.

The opposition Social Democrats accused the government yesterday of ignoring widely held concerns about nuclear waste transport and of provoking an avoidable confrontation.

The Green leader, Mr Joschka Fischer, called in the Bundestag for Germany's entire nuclear power programme to be abandoned.

"The government is pushing through its nuclear energy policy like a police state. It is irresponsible to carry on with nuclear energy when we don't know what to do with the damned waste," he said.

Police used tear gas, water cannon and baton charges to disperse protesters at Gorleben last May when a shipment of nuclear waste arrived from the French nuclear reprocessing plant at La Hague. More than 50 protesters and eight policemen were injured in the clashes which saw antinuclear activists erect blazing barricades and hurling stones at the police.

Green leaders called on protesters to keep their opposition peaceful this year but some fear that the massive police presence will make violence more likely.

The waste is the product of recycled nuclear rods and must be stored and constantly cooled for more than 20 years. Although it is encased in glass, the material is hot - about 450 degrees centigrade at the centre of the containers - and remains radioactive.

More than 100 further shipments to Gorleben are planned for the next eight years but the Social Democrat Interior Minister of the local state of Lower Saxony has demanded that next week's should be the last.

The Environment Minister, Ms Angela Merkel, met anti nuclear representatives on Wednesday but failed to persuade them to abandon their planned protest. The Social Democrat leader of the local council in Gorleben, Mr Christian Zuhlke, condemned the massive police operation and called for the shipment to be, cancelled.

"It is not politically acceptable to push through an unnecessary shipment with the biggest police deployment in the history of the Federal Republic," he said.