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The BBC's Peter Morgan in Berlin
"Demonstrators tried in vain to halt the convoy"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 24 April, 2001, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
German nuclear waste heads for UK
Protester at Neckarwestheim
Dozens of protesters were carried away
A controversial shipment of German radioactive waste destined for reprocessing in Britain has finished the first leg of its journey amid fresh protests.

It will be the first such cargo bound for Britain since the German government halted all nuclear transports in 1998.

Despite the protests in which there were many arrests, the five-kilometre road journey from Neckarwestheim nuclear power station to a rail terminal in south-western Germany took just 45 minutes.

Trucks leave Neckarwestheim
The trucks finally rolled out later than scheduled
Dozens of demonstrators staging a sit-in on the route had forced a delay before the cargo finally rolled out in a convoy of trucks.

The shipment will be joined with waste from another German plant, at Biblis, before being taken by rail and sea to Sellafield in north-west England.

The German government suspended shipments of waste three years ago when high radiation levels were discovered on the outside of waste containers.

Sellafield was then hit by a scandal over the falsification of records, but the German government says it is happy that procedures have now been tightened.

Expensive transport

About 60 demonstrators who tried to block the road near the Neckarwestheim plant were detained by police, and the shipment was driven through more than an hour later than scheduled.

The 21 highly radioactive used fuel rods in three protective containers were transferred from road to rail and will commence their journey onward to the German border town of Woerth on Wednesday, before crossing France and travelling to the port of Dunkirk.

Protesters have vowed to disrupt the journey at other locations, and say their goal is to make nuclear transport so hard to police that it becomes prohibitively expensive.

Sellafield plant
Sellafield was hit by safety scandal
On Monday, at least a dozen protesters chained themselves to railway tracks ahead of the shipment.

The Sellafield plant itself has been the centre of controversy for many years.

In 1957, a reactor at the site was the scene of Britain's worst nuclear accident, and there have been long-standing accusations that its waste water has contaminated sea life.

The plant was prosecuted twice last year for breaches to safety rules.

German policy

German campaign groups recently staged huge protests against reprocessed fuel returning to Germany for storage and also disrupted the resumption of waste exports to France.

The German government is committed to ending nuclear reprocessing by 2005 but it has allowed the power generators to honour their existing reprocessing contracts.

Protesters dispersed with water cannon
Water cannon was used against previous protests
In advance of the current shipment, Fritz Kuhn - co-leader of Germany's Green Party which is junior partner in the federal government - wrote to the management of Neckarwestheim power station accusing it of breaking the spirit of the agreement between government and industry to limit nuclear transports as part of the plan to phase out nuclear power within 30 years.

He called on the company to halt the shipment, which he described as unnecessary after permission was granted to store waste at the power station itself.

A hostile reaction is also expected in the UK when the shipments arrive, although it is not clear what form any protest will take.

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See also:

23 Apr 01 | Europe
Germany's nuclear waste headache
11 Apr 01 | Europe
German nuclear train nears end
26 Mar 01 | Europe
Nuclear nightmare for Greens
28 Mar 01 | Europe
Germany's anti-nuclear protesters
28 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
Nuclear waste: A long-lived legacy
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