Enough protest puff for two simultaneous nuclear waste transports?

Anti - Atom Sonne

Two more nuclear waste consignments are to run through Germany, most likely simultaneously, around the middle of this month, as the activist movement to me looks too stretched to put up much resistance. A smart move by the authorities, who must assume that the anti-nuclear movement is out of puff after 50,000 just turned up to demonstrate in Gorleben, 20,000 a few weeks prior at 120 locations across the country, a few months further back 150,000 in Berlin and dribs and drabs all over the place all the time.


One of my Gorleben contacts agrees with my supposition that this is strategy to keep protest as fragmented and hence as small as possible, but “those who can, will engage. C’est la vie”.


Mobilisation talk on the web says actions are planned in about 50 towns against one shipment from a plutonium facility in Cadarache, southern France, to Lubmin on the German Baltic coast, and another from Ahaus in west Germany to Mayak in Russia, the most radioactively contaminated place on earth.


(If you understand German, you may want to watch a television report about Mayak  at http://www.wdr.de/tv/monitor/sendungen/2010/1118/atom.php5 .  I’ve reported on it at http://indymedia.org.au/2010/11/21/berlin-breaks-german-law-to-dump-nuclear-waste-in-russia. There’s also a film about Mayak in Russian with German subtitles at http://www.videowerkstatt.de/)


Five caskets for the transportation and storage of nuclear waste (CASTORS), containing highly radioactive waste from an abandoned recycling facility near Karlsruhe in Germany, and four CASTORS from the French nuclear research centre in Cadarache are to be transported to an interim repository near Lubmin, a Baltic beach resort. (See more on Baltic radioactive pollution below.)


The dates being mentioned are December 14 to 16. First nationwide massive protest “strolls” are to take place on Monday.  On Saturday 11 December a rally will start protests in Greifswald, near the Lubmin temporary storage hall.  And on Sunday the 12th a big demonstration will kick off actions in Ahaus, site of another temporary storage hall.

They want to make sure, says an activist leader, that the ever present dangers of nuclear technologies are never forgotten.  “But we can’t lift this one on our own,” they groaned publicly, appealing for wide support from everywhere. 18 CASTORS are to go to Mayak, six to start with. Ultimately Ahaus is also to take in 152 CASTORS from a mostly government-owned research facility at Jülich, near Cologne (26 consignments à 6 CASTORS spread through one and a half years).

On the Ahaus-Mayak plan, the federal government has to contend with some hiccups, though no one doubts that they’ll ultimately get their way. Various German local governments have banned the use of their ports (though I don’t see how they can sustain that), the state government responsible for Ahaus doesn’t want the shipment to happen and there’s no treaty with Russia yet, though one is awaiting signature. There’s also talk of a French port being used.


The activists claim they’ve caused all the bumps on the road by their determined protest. But they say they’re staying alert in mobilisation mode to be ready for any surprise. “We’re not standing down, this is just a short breather,” say the Ahaus organisers.


The last few days had been incredibly hectic, like a roller-coaster ride, “but we’ve scored a first, very important success. It cost a lot of strength, but our resistance is working and has rattled the other side.” They want nuclear transports stopped altogether.

A week or so ago, a media release by the activists that Ahaus police headquarters had taken delivery of “prisoner cages” made huge waves in the media, the police and the North-Rhine Westphalian left-leaning state government. There were some pretty lame “explanations”: “Old order”, “we have to practice sometimes”, “for the demonstration on 12 December”. “We expect never to see these cages turn up again in our area,” write the angry activists, and “we won’t be criminalised or intimidated”. They claimed that the government had since ordered police to “scale down”.

The spent fuel to come from France is especially dangerous, weapons-grade highly enriched uranium, which had earlier been declared as cleaning rags, medical waste and so on.

At any rate, the Lubminers, who’ve just hosted a meeting by 45 north German anti-nuclear groups, say thousands are expected to protest against the delivery to their seaside town, a tourism resort.


On the day of the transport, expected to be 15 or 16 December, actions are planned throughout Germany along the route the train carrying the CASTORS to Lubmin will take. Action is being mobilised especially in such towns as Erfurt, Halle, Magdeburg, Ludwigslust, Rostock, Potsdam/Berlin and Neubrandenburg as well as at the Franco-German border near Karlsruhe.


Rail squat blockades and creative actions are planned for the last 22 kilometres of track from Greifswald to the interim depot. This is the sort of scenario the Gorlebeners are good at because their CASTORS also travel 20 kilometres by road from the railhead to the storage hall, and they’re acting as “consultants” to the locals. Encouraged by the waves of protest in recent months, the Lubmin groups say they’re preparing on a bigger scale than ever, for example in arranging sleeping places for visitors.


“We will not just stand idly by as the scandalous transport races along at a reckless 100 km per hour, as it did recently in Gorleben,” said civil engineer Bernd Ebeling. “The transport as such is already a huge safety risk.” Physicist Wolfgang Neumann from Hanover, a nuclear expert, explained that in case of an accident with a long-burning fire (such as the explosion of a tank wagon) large amounts of radioactive particles could be released. In wind direction even 15 km away the limit of 50 millisieverts in the radiation protection regulations would be exceeded; within a radius of five kilometres the population would have to be evacuated or resettled long-term. 

A catch-up piece of news about the demonstration against the recent delivery to Gorleben of 11 more CASTOR caskets: a 45-year-old activist from Mainz, identified by his mates as “Patriq”, was found dead in a three-metre-wide forest creek in about 50 centimetres of water. The body was found about two weeks after the protests. He’s said to have drowned after slipping on the bank while urinating. Police tested for alcohol. Some activists suggest police foul play because there were running battles in parts of the forest between activists and police.

Patriq told friends he’d met some people he wanted to spend some time with before going home. An indignant writer said on an activist web site that everyone should be ashamed “for not looking after our own”. His friends put out a call for anyone who had contact with Patriq after the protests to tell them about his last days.


Saying they mourn and miss him, his activist group describe him as someone who worked tirelessly for a different, more peaceful and better world, a freelance journalist, antifascist, pacifist and important human being in social, ecological and peace movements. “Patriq was a larrikin, always-ready-to-help, always critical, somewhat chaotic and always very honest human being. But Patriq was also a genius in organisation who always stayed loyal to his ideals.”


And the Gorleben resistance have just snubbed a visit by Norbert Röttgen, the environment minister, who claimed to be offering “dialogue”. No dialogue was possible with someone who was establishing facts on the ground without consultation, the Gorlebeners said. They decided to not even dignify him with a demonstration.


A court ruling is pleasing activists. An administrative appeals tribunal in Münster has declared illegal video filming of demonstrators against a uranium shipment in June 2008, the first such judgment at this judicial level. Police aren’t allowed to appeal it.  The court said video observation could intimidate and deter citizens from legitimately exercising their constitutional rights, for example freedom of assembly, because they could not gauge whether this would put them at risk.


Activists commented that the ruling is a clear rejection of the usual police practice of filming indiscriminately and later playing down the seriousness of it. They expect the state government to order police to keep their cameras switched off, they said.


And another court has ruled that police acted illegally by “kettling” (keeping encircled) demonstrators for several hours in an alley in Ulm, southern Germany, in 2009. You’d think police would learn, because precedent judgments of this kind have gone against them in Gorleben.  But maybe they couldn’t care less because their court costs are paid by the taxpayers, anyway, and you never hear of police being punished for any wrongdoing of this kind. They say in Gorleben, “When the CASTORS come, democracy goes”.


In a related development, from next month police in Berlin are to be identified optionally by number or name, visible on their uniforms, a first in Germany as far as I know. Police forces across the country resist this tooth and nail. It’s something civil libertarians have demanded for decades and it was duly celebrated. But then came the damper: the Berlin riot police, who are sent to such things as anti-nuclear demonstrations, will be exempted from the new rule. They’ll just have “tactical” and changeable group numbers.


Harking back once more to Gorleben:  A police trade union condemned the planning of their deployment (20,000 men and women, the biggest force ever) from 6 to 9 November as “disastrous”. The union president, Rainer Wendt, said he’d never seen anything like it. "Police women had to answer the call of nature in the open air and be filmed at it by demonstrators because there were not enough mobile toilets,” he gave as one example.  Farmers strategically blocking roads with more than 600 tractors effectively disrupted police supply lines so that provisions and reinforcements were often delayed.


The Gorlebeners’ legal team says on last month’s Gorleben assignment police were the most brutal they’ve been in ten years.


The Baltic is the most radioactively polluted ocean in the world. It’s more or less like a big lake, with not much water exchange with other seas; all radioactivity reaching it gets concentrated there. The biggest (historical) atomic polluters of the Baltic were the 1986 reactor catastrophe of Chernobyl, the earlier worldwide open-air nuclear bomb tests and the discharges of the nuclear facilities in Sellafield (UK).


Additionally there are the later impacts of the nuclear power plants around the Baltic seaboard. The Swedish reactors have the biggest impact to the radioactivity of the Baltic Sea, followed by the Finnish reactors and eventually by the Russian facilities. Nuclear waste, uranium and fuel element transports across the Baltic Sea are increasing the atomic risk as well as the proposed final repositories for high level radioactive waste beneath (!) the Baltic Sea in Forsmark (Sweden) and Olkiluoto (Finland). If plans for uranium mining and power plants construction projects in Scandinavia go ahead, the radioactive contamination of the Baltic will be increased even more.


Outside scientific circles, not much is known about the Baltic’s radioactivity. Some regions lack even a basic knowledge and awareness of the risks of the technology, and many people around this inland sea don’t even know certain facilities exist.


While an active anti-nuclear movement exists in Germany, the former strong movements of Denmark and Sweden have disappeared nearly completely and the establishment of new groups is progressing slowly as people are confronted with new projects of the nuclear industry. In Finland a lively new movement against the atomic projects there has grown during the last few years, working closely with and supported by international activists.