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Germany’s “anti-nuclear” government starts Castor transports again

30,000 police force transport through in Wendland - 5,000 police in Philippsburg two weeks later

Since October 1998 Germany has a coalition government of social democrats and Greens, who both proclaimed that getting out of nuclear energy would be one of their main concerns. Now this government started a series of nuclear waste transports accompanied by huge police forces and temporary bans on any form of demonstrations unprecedented in „democratic“ Germany. This year probably will bring even more transports of spent fuel rods to the reprocessing plants in La Hague/France and Sellafield/Britain.

A brief history

From 1994 to 1998 yearly Castor shipments to Gorleben lead to increased resistance, first of all in the region of Wendland, later increasingly all over Germany. An ever increasing police force was needed to force through these transports: from 15,000 in 1995 (see PN June 1995) to 30,000 in 1997 (PN April 1997). In 1998, the then ruling coalition of Christian Democrats and Liberals thought to avoid similar protests by moving the transports from Gorleben with its more of 20 years of resistance to Ahaus, where there was almost no tradition of resistance. This didn’t help, and again 30,000 police were needed (see PN April 1998). It was obvious: nuclear energy use in Germany met a very broad and radical resistance, and only could be enforced by an undemocratic police state.

In summer 1998 contaminations of the Castor transport containments were discovered, which were as high as 2000 times the limit. This lead to a total stop of transports in France and Germany (see PN July 1998). France lifted this ban only a few month later, but the German government was not able to do so, especially after the „anti-nuclear“ coalition of Social Democrats and Greens took power in October 1998. Both parties participated in the earlier protests, although they never plaid a major role in the organising of the movement.

The „nuclear consensus“

The new government immediately announced that they wanted to get out of nuclear energy in a consensus with those who profited from nuclear energy, to avoid potential demands for compensation. The so-called „nuclear consensus talks“ between government and electricity suppliers started – neither the trade unions, nor the environmental movement, let alone the anti-nuclear movement, were included in these talks. In summer 2000 these talks lead to a so-called „nuclear consensus“, which mainly guarantees the ongoing use of nuclear energy for a further 20-25 years, and transports for reprocessing in La Hague and Sellafield until 2005 (this waste then can be reprocessed until 2015). The government guarantees nuclear transports, and in exchange the electricity suppliers start to build intermediate storage sites close to their nuclear power stations, to avoid these transports – the main targets of the resistance – in the near future. Otto Majewski, the president of Bayernwerke, one of the main owners of nuclear power stations in Germany, commented: “We reached our declared aim, the further use of German nuclear power stations under conditions that are economically acceptable. The red-green government would really have been able, to disturb the existence and user of German nuclear power stations substantially.” No further comment is needed.

The strategy of the movement

Immediately after the imposition of the ban on all transports in 1998, the anti-nuclear movement announced it would prepare for mass resistance in case this ban will be lifted – no matter from where to where this first transport would go. Prior to the ban the movement focussed on transports to Gorleben (and later Ahaus), and mostly ignored the much more regulary transports from German power stations to Sellafield or La Hague. This was not because the movement agreed with these transports, it was because Gorleben strategically was the weakest point of the nuclear fuel „cycle“. In addition, at most power stations the movement’s base was small, while in Gorleben there was a long and strong tradition of resistance, and the myth of the „Republic Free Wendland“ in 1980.

The ban on transports changed the situation completely. For the first time now it seemed possible to also block transports to La Hague and Sellafield. With the time passing and the ban still in force, the internal storage capacities of the power stations quickly filled up, and it seemed possible that some nuclear power stations might need to close down simply because of a lack of storage space. In late 2000, Philippsburg, Biblis, Neckarwestheim and Stade called for transports immediately, because their storage capacity was filled up.

The „French connection“

In October preparations were under way to transport spent fuel rods from Philippsburg to La Hague in France. Anti-nuclear activists started actions in Philippsburg, and met with strong police repression (see PN 2441). The transport did not happen – not only because of the resistance, but also because the French government declaired that they wouldn’t allow any more German nuclear waste into the country as long as Germany doesn’t start to take back the waste from reprocessing in La Hague. This was „top business“, involving even the German chancellor Schröder and France’s Jospin.

For Germany’s „anti-nuclear“ government this was a tough situation. Now it was clear that the first transport – the one practically lifting the ban – had to go to Gorleben, as Gorleben is the only storage site for waste from reprocessing – and the heart of the resistance.

The „Gorleben transport“ in March – door opener for more transports to France

March 2001 in Wendland again brought the „nuclear state“ – a term coined by the future researcher Robert Jungk to name the „security“ consequences of nuclear energy use – to the surface: a force of 15,000 police occupied the county of Wendland with its 45,000 inhabitants. A further 15,000 police were employed along the railway lines from the French-German border in South Germany to Lüneburg, the begin of the last line to the Wendland – and of the resistance region. Bans on demonstrations prohibited assemblies in huge areas along the railway line from Lüneburg to Dannenberg (50 km), and the road from Dannenberg to Gorleben (20 km). The police talked a lot about „deescalation“ and employed „conflict managers“, but at the same time the strategy clearly was aimed against the structures of the resistance – it was almost impossible to set up camps for the thousands of activists. As a result churches opened their gates, pupils occupied their schools in order to provide accomodation for activists, and many people opened their houses.

This time the resistance focused more on the 50 km of railway line between Lüneburg and Dannenberg. The slogan was: We march in the direction of the Castor. The train was stopped the first time just 5 km from Lüneburg by a blockade of almost 1,000 people, who inspite of a police line managed to get on the tracks. Most were carried into a „prison train“ chartered by the police and „travelled“ via Lüneburg and Hamburg to Büchen, where they were released (without their names being taken – the police just wanted to get rid of them) and took the next train back to Lüneburg. Later on the line 4 activists concreted metal pipes to the tracks and locked themselves to these pipes. This way the managed to stop the train for 17 hours, bringing it totally out of schedule. One day later than scheduled – on Thursday, 29 March, 18,000 police protected the last 20 km road to Dannenberg and forced the transport to the intermediate storage site there. Again a military victory for the „nuclear state“, but a political defeat. 200 million Deutschmark (£ 65 million) of tax money were spent on this police employment – for just six Castors full of highly radioactive nuclear waste. The hopes of the government and the nuclear industry, that after the „nuclear consensus“ such transports could go ahead much more smoothly, clearly didn’t come true. Just the opposite: it became obvious that the „nuclear consensus“ unrightly bears its name – there is no consensus for a „phasing out“ of nuclear energy that includes the use of this dangerous energy for a further 25-30 years.

Philippsburg in April: nuclear state part II

Only two weeks later the owners of Philippsburg finally could send of some of their spent fuel rods to La Hague. 5,000 police protected 5 km of railway line and occupied the tiny little village of Reinsheim with 1,000 inhabitants. The 1,000 activists faced a ban on demonstrations, and met with brutal police violence. Every attempt to get close to the tracks was answered by force, using batons and water canons. More than 120 activists were taken into custody. Two acivists effectively stopped the transport shortly before the French border. Again they had locked themselves to the tracks. For the first time this transport also met resistance in France. It was stopped in Bondy east of Paris, and in Conflans Fin d’Oise northwest of Paris. Even MP’s of the French Greens participated in this protests, and they alread supported the protests against the transport to Gorleben two weeks earlier. In opposition to their German party colleagues they were able to calculate: the one transport to Gorleben was only symbolic to give way to much more transports from Germany to La Hague.

Neckarwestheim-Sellafield at the end of April

From 23 to 26 April Neckarwestheim in Southern Germany was the place of resistance. Three castor containments from the nuclear power station Neckarwestheim were first transported to Walheim by road. Again about 5,000 police didn’t manage to prevent small blockades of the road. Later the train – which inluded two Castors from Biblis – was stopped several times, within Germany and in France too. From Dunkirchen the transport continued by ship to Sellafield.

Until the end of May the northern German power stations Brunsbüttel and Stade close to Hamburg plan to send a transport to La Hague in France again.

The movements strategy – first to concentrate on Gorleben, and then to use the strength (and the situation following the 1998 ban on transports) to expand its focus to all transports of spent fuel rods and high level nuclear waste, was very successful. Slowly the media and some politicians (not yet from the Green party) realise that the nuclear consensus won’t be working, and that they just can’t go on. The questions, already posed by the anti-Castor actions in 1997, remains: how many more police actions like the recent ones is this state – is the public – able to tolerate?

The „NIMBY“ argument

In their helplessness especially Green parlamentarians and ministers accuse the anti-nuclear movement of following a „not-in-my-backyard“ approach. The waste in La Hague and Sellafield, they argue, comes from German power stations and Germany is responsible for taking back the waste. These transports – such as the one to Gorleben in March – therefore don’t have anything to do with the ongoing use of nuclear energy. Nothing could be more wrong. Although the German anti-nuclear movement doesn’t deny that Germany has to take back the waste – there is no doubt about this – the position is very strategic and clear: any nuclear waste transport now facilitates the further use of nuclear energy in Germany, and therefore is not acceptable. The transport to Gorleben with its function as „door-opener“ is a case in point. The movement therefore argues, that firstly all power stations need to be turned of, and then a public debate needs to be started how to deal with the existing waste, where and how to store it. Until then, resistance will continue.

See you next time on some railway tracks close to a German nuclear power station?

Andreas Speck, May 2001



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Article | by Dr. Radut