Germany - Plutonium Investigation n°4/5

Nuclear Transports : A Few Demonstrations Made, Plenty to Come

Over the last 25 years Germany has seen many demonstrations against the nuclear industry. Those against the Wackersdorf reprocessing plant in Bavaria in the 1980s were particularly massive. Today's demonstrations are in particular against nuclear shipments. During the last four years, demonstrations have been organised against transports of nuclear spent fuel or high-level radioactive waste to two "interim" storage facilities. These demonstrations have involved tens of thousands of citizens - organised in "Bürgerinitiativen", citizens' groups - activists, farmers, and even local police trade unions, and have required the intervention of tens of thousands of policemen. The use of police forces and the repair for damages (to road and railway tracks) have been very costly:

  • April 1995: one cask of spent fuel to Gorleben - 8,000 policemen, DM 50 million;

  • May 1996: one cask of highly radioactive waste from the reprocessing plant at La Hague transported to the Gorleben interim storage facility - 9,000 policemen, DM 90 million;

  • March 1997: four containers of spent fuel and two containers of highly radioactive waste from the reprocessing plant at La Hague, France to the Gorleben storage interim facility - 20,000 demonstrators, 30,000 policemen and estimated to have cost DM 111 million;

  • March 1998: another transport of six containers of spent fuel from the Gundremmingen and Neckarwestheim nuclear power plants to the Ahaus interim storage facility - 10,000 demonstrators, 30,000 policemen (several football matches had to be cancelled since the police could no longer guarantee security), at least cost an estimated DM 100 million.

According to the security organisation in Germany, it is up to the Land concerned to pay for the police forces during such demonstrations. However, since the Lower Saxony Land, in which is located the Gorleben storage facility, has been obliged by the Federal government to accept the waste against its will, it has not yet agreed to pay for these sums. The outcome of the conflict is still unclear.

The two interim storage facilities for radioactive waste, the Gorleben "Castor-Hall" and the Ahaus storage facility, are basically warehouse type buildings. The large demonstrations have shown that the population concerned is fundamentally opposed to the 1970s choices for interim storage, especially as no final storage management scheme or site has been decided upon. The transports have also been opposed for safety reasons because of the potentially catastrophic consequences of an accident during the journey through densely-populated areas. As one radioprotection engineer puts it, these transports are nuclear facilities on wheels and risks associated with transports are of the same extent as those associated with the operation of a plant.

Since the return of high-level radioactive waste from the reprocessing countries to Germany is just beginning, as well as the transport of spent fuel which will not be reprocessed to interim storage sites, many more transports are to be carried out and corresponding protests are scheduled.

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