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Victory in defeat as nuclear transport goes through

On 25 April, a transport of spent nuclear fuel rods reached the intermediate storage site in Gorleben, Lower Saxony (Peace News September 1994, January 1995), the way having been cleared of protesters by 15,000 police in the county of Wendland and throughout the railway network. The bill for the police operation alone is estimated at 55 million marks (£25 million). ANDREAS SPECK looks at the history of the anti-nuclear campaign and suggests how to sharpen strategies for nonviolent protest.
The first "Castor" radioactive waste transport--enforced in April through a massive police operation--does not mark the end of resistance in the Wendland, but the beginning of a new and more powerful anti-nuclear movement.
The question of nuclear transport is the weakest point in the nuclear fuel cycle. To keep German nuclear power plants working, the industry has had to meet two storage criteria: first, that it has an intermediate storage site; and second, that it can take back high-level radioactive waste from the reprocessing of spent fuel rods at La Hague (France) and Sellafield (Britain).
There are many nuclear-waste transports in Germany, usually from German power stations to the French and British reprocessing plants, and some of these have been blockaded by protesters in the past. But the anti-nuclear movement was never able to develop a power base like that in Gorleben--and none of the other nuclear transports are as significant as those to Gorleben.

The state enforces

The anti-nuclear movement strategy is to "stop the transport before it leaves"--and to block it after it has left. There was never a "militarist" strategy to fight the police, but a political strategy which foresaw the state and the nuclear industry using the police to enforce the transport. This strategy, at least, was successful.
More than 3,000 people were on the streets in Wendland, ignoring the ban on demonstrations and using civil disobedience tactics against the transport. They represented a wide range of people-- old and young, left radicals and local farmers, students and physicians, people from the cities and people from the countryside. The actions were similarly diverse--legal demonstrations and civil disobedience, big demonstrations and small groups blocking trains and streets, nonviolent actions and sabotage.
This wide range of individuals and actions was organised not by a central structure, but by small affinity groups which met and communicated by delegating members to a plenary group. Nonviolent action groups added their own structure of speakers' councils to coordinate their own actions, as well as participating in the bigger actions and the wider structure of the movement.
The structure worked--with some reservations. The biggest problem was the communication among all these groups. The county of Wendland is big, and very often groups made actions at different places within the county (or outside). To coordinate all these actions and to inform the other groups was never easy and sometimes impossible. The strategy of "flexible actions" in a wide area implies the need for up-to-date communications; which was not always available.

Information gaps

Another problem was the great number of people who were not organised in affinity groups. For them, it was nearly impossible to participate in decisions and to get information about "illegal" actions. This is not only a problem for our protests in the Wendland, but one which is experienced in many campaigns today; I would be interested in hearing how these problems have been dealt with in other countries.
I see two weak points in the campaign against Castor. One point is that the question of violence has not been discussed. The people's movement has always declared that it will not use violence against people, and it kept its distance from those actions where this danger was not absolutely excluded. But--aside from this--there has been no discussion, and sometimes there has been a feeling of "anything goes", which may lead to future problems.
The other weak point has been a fixation on the county of Wendland as a focus of resistance. This fixation did diminish over the last cycle of protest actions, from spring 1994 to April 1995; after the first few months, actions along the railway lines became stronger and more important for the campaign as a whole.

Don't speak of failure

So the first Castor transport arrived at Gorleben, more than ten years after the intermediate storage site was built, and after as many years of resistance. A failure? Nobody in the anti-nuclear movement speaks of a failure; nor do the government and the nuclear industry speak of a victory. They may have hoped that, after a strong police presence to enforce the first Castor transport, resistance would come to an end, but this does not appear to be the case. More than 3,000 local residents have signed a newspaper advertisement which declares their continued resistance to the transports. Throughout Germany, anti-nuclear activists are preparing for "Day X2", when the second Castor delivery is expected in Gorleben, and when even more police may be needed to enforce the transport.
But Gorleben is only one point. Perspectives need to include international networking. It is not only German waste which is reprocessed in La Hague and Sellafield, but also that from Japan and other countries [the voyage of the Pacific Pintail, which carried nuclear waste from France to Japan over protests from Pacific Rim states and international environmental groups, further crystallised these issues]. The nuclear industry's international links mean that it is time for the anti-nuclear movement to react internationally, and to plan joint actions as necessary.
Oldenburg Grassroots Group, Brahmweg 178, D-26135 Oldenburg, Germany (+49 441 203864)
Published in Peace News No 2391, June 1995

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Article | by Dr. Radut