Der Spiegel - 10 Nov 08

Prof. Robert B. Laughlin
Department of Physics
Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305,1518,589456,00.html
(Copied 30 Aug 09)

The Renaissance of the Anti-Nuclear Movement

By Siobhán Dolling
November 10, 2008 12:00 pm CET

This weekend over 15,000 people turned out to disrupt a delivery of nuclear waste across Germany -- one of the largest such protests in years. The German press expects the nuclear issue to play a big role in next year's election campaign.

When the government of former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, which saw his Social Democrats paired with the Greens in a governing coalition, announced in 2000 that the country was phasing out its nuclear power plants, it seemed that decades of anti-nuclear activism in Germany could be laid to rest. Indeed, protests against atomic power virtually disappeared from the calendars of political activists.

That, though, has changed recently. A series of revelations about leaks at a nuclear waste dump, combined with a fresh political debate about the nuclear phase-out has led to a revival of the movement. And this weekend saw the clearest evidence that the issue is still very much alive as thousands of people turned out to disrupt the transport of radioactive nuclear waste from France to a dump in Germany.

They were the biggest and most violent anti-nuclear protests in Germany since 2001, with activists setting fire to barricades and chaining themselves to train tracks. Several protesters and police were injured during the clashes.

The protests delayed for hours the transport of the disputed nuclear waste to the long-term storage facility in Gorleben, located just south-east of Hamburg. By the time the 11 containers of treated waste were finally transferred to trucks for the final 30 kilometers of their journey, the operation was already 14 hours behind schedule.

Thousands of police were deployed throughout the weekend and well into Monday to ensure that the waste gets to its destination. Some 1,000 demonstrators continue to be waiting along the possible routes with protesters even having driven 37 tractors on to one of the roads near the Gorleben storage facility. A number high ranking members of Germany's Green Party took part in the demonstrations on the weekend.

This weekend's transport is the 11th of its kind to date.The nuclear waste from many German nuclear plants is sent to the French facility at La Hague in Normandy to be reprocessed and sealed into glass for storage.

The cargo had already been delayed on Saturday for 12 hours at the French-German border after three protesters chained themselves to concrete blocks supporting the rails. Meanwhile, three deliberate fires in signaling equipment disrupted rail traffic on Saturday, knocking out the high-speed rail link between Berlin and Hamburg.

In all around 15,000 demonstrators rallied against the transport over the weekend while 16,000 police officers were deployed across Germany. While most of the protests were non-violent there were some ugly scenes. Riot police clashed with activists on Sunday after around 700 militants began hurling firecrackers at the police and setting bales of straw on fire on the rails. The police used water cannon and batons to disperse the crowd. Other groups staged sit-ins on two other parts of the track but they were described as more peaceful. Many wore silly hats, blew bubbles and played bagpipe music as they were carried away by the police.

"This is a strong sign of the renaissance of the anti-nuclear movement," Jochen Stay, spokesman for anti-nuclear group X-Tausendmal quer, told reporters. The organization campaigns for the speedy phase-out of the country's remaining nuclear plants. The opposition Greens and the far-left Left Party had called on their members to join the protests.

The German governing coalition of Social Democrats and conservative Christian Democrats has approved plans to shut down the last of the 17 reactors by 2020. However, Chancellor Angela Merkel has indicated that she would be in favor of slowing down that process so that the country could meet its commitments for slashing greenhouse gases.

On Monday, German papers see the protests as evidence that the old conflict over nuclear energy is far from over. And that it is likely to be a key issue in next year's federal elections.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"In Gorleben it was much more than the repeat of a ritual. Mobilized by the Greens, many more people demonstrated this time. The protests were reminiscent of the carefully organized performance by anti-globalization protesters at the G-8 summit. The non-violent blockades were carefully prepared and attracted many noticeably young demonstrators. In this way a movement that many believed was dead could be revived."

"Perhaps the conditions at the Asse nuclear storage facility made this deployment possible. Above all, however, it is a signal to the nuclear industry and also to the chancellor and to her Christian Democrats. Many young citizens now take for granted the nuclear power phase-out that was pushed through by the SPD and the Greens. Anyone who now uses the climate crisis to put it in question, and presents nuclear power as environmentally-friendly energy, will not have any easy time of it -- rather they will provoke the renaissance of an old conflict."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"For a time it seemed that rising prices of oil and gas and the great dependence on energy exports from Russia allowed for a heretical idea: rethinking the nuclear phase-out. It would be good, if this debate were to continue."

"However the final storage question remains vital, and even those in favor of nuclear power have to concede this. In a heavily populated country like Germany -- one that may be technically accomplished but also one which is notoriously fretful -- this issue needs to be reexamined."

"Rational considerations naturally play no role in the powerful and emotional demonstrations that took place this weekend. The 'either-or,' 'right or wrong' is the preserve of the young, as evidenced by the many fresh faces. Those who chained themselves to the rails and wanted to delay the transport ... are militant activists. Many others used the opportunity for a big get-together and an annual festival."

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The unresolved question of nuclear waste disposal is once again at the forefront of people's minds Above all, however, is the fact that the nuclear consensus is now officially being called into question. The energy companies are blatantly using tricks to save their old power plants until past the next election -- in the hope that the phase-out will then be abandoned. The CDU and FDP say openly that they would like to let the reactors keep running and are even using this issue for their election campaign."

"These provocations may not end up being to the advantage of the Christian Democrats, as the weekend protests show. It was only all quiet on the nuclear front because the issue was seen as resolved once and for all. If the phase-out is reversed, then the old conflicts will break out again."

"It is obvious that the other parties are happy to take up the challenge ... It is not only SPD Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel who has discovered how much one can score points with the nuclear issue. The Greens had a bigger presence in Gorleben than they have had for some time. And the Left Party is also taking up the cause. If the three parties vie with each other over who is for the true nuclear phase-out, then they are guaranteed attention."

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Fig. 1: Germany saw a series of protests this weekend as anti-nuclear activists attempted to disrupt the transport of atomic waste from France to Gorleben in northern Germany. Here riot police put out fires started by some protesters along the rails. - Getty Images.
Fig. 2: The controversial shipment of 11 containers provoked protests, some violent, most peaceful. - Reuters
Fig. 3: The containers arrived at the station in Dennenberg in the early hours of Monday morning. - Getty Images
Fig. 4: Protesters had managed to delay the transport by some 14 hours. The containers are to b e transported by truck for the last 20 kilometers to the storage facility at Gorleben. - Reuters
Fig. 5: There were some ugly scenes. On Sunday some 700 militants threw fire crackers at the police and set bales of straw on fire. The police used batons and water cannon to break up the demonstrations. - Getty Images
Fig. 6: The protests may have been specifically about the delivery of the radioactive waste, but generally they marked a revival of the anti-nuclear movement in Germany. - DDP
Fig. 7: Most of the protests were peaceful, with cheerful bubble-blowing demonstrators staging sit-ins along the railway lines. - Getty Images
Fig. 8: They were escorted away by police one by one. Some 16,000 officers were deployed across Germany to ensure the waste reached its destination. - Getty Images
Fig. 9: Some protesters chained themselves to the tracks and had to be cut free by the police. - DDP
Fig. 10: The officers had to check that the track was intact. On Saturday deliberate fires in signaling equipment disrupted rail traffic, knocking out the high-speed line between Berlin and Hamburg. - DDP
Fig. 11: Protesters stage a sit-in in front of the Gorleben storage facility. - Reuters
Fig. 12: Protesters tried again on Monday night to block the shipment, setting bales of straw on fire on a road in Laase, in northern Germany. - AP
Fig. 13: Police forces tried to occupy the road themselves to prevent protesters from getting a foothold. Many demonstrators were forcibly removed. - AP
Fig. 14: The convoy carrying eleven containers of nuclear waste finally arrived at its destination Tuesday morning at a depot in Gorleben, some 95 miles (155 kilometers) northeast of Hannover. - AP
Fig. 15: Anti-nuclear protesters are silhouetted here in front of a water cannon as they try to block a road in Laase, northern Germany. Although the demonstrators managed to delay the shipment, they could not prevent it. - AP
Fig. 16: Protesters chained themselves to two cement pyramids in the town of Grippel on Monday, causing an hour delay in the waste-transport. - DPA
Fig. 17: One anti-nuclear group described the weekend's activities as the "Renaissance of the anti-nuclear movement." - DPA