Running battle over nuclear waste train

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A 30,000-STRONG police force used water cannons to secure the route of a train carrying nuclear waste which was due to arrive in the north-German town of Ahaus last night.

Protesters had chained themselves to the tracks and one policeman died after being accidentally run over by a locomotive as the annual confrontation between environmentalists and the nuclear industry approached its climax.

The train, carrying six containers of spent nuclear fuel from power plants in southern Germany, had to thread its way past thousands of demonstrators. The destination of the 300-mile journey was the storage site near Ahaus, a small Munsterland market town near the Dutch border.

Singing Sixties protest songs, protesters chained themselves to the tracks, undermined roads and occupied intersections. In some instances, police dragged them away one by one. In the centre of Ahaus, police used batons to break up a smaller demonstration.

"It's just chaos," said Andre Obermeier, a spokesman from Ahaus anti- nuclear group. "It just shows how pointless the shipment is, how unnecessary - they could have stored it in the power plants where it came from for years."

Anti-nuclear groups estimated that about 5,000 protesters had pitched tents in the vicinity of Ahaus, considerably fewer than expected. The authorities had wrong-footed organisers by setting the convoy off several days earlier than advertised. Thousands of environmentalists were racing across Germany yesterday to catch up.

Wolfgang Clement, state premier-designate of North Rhine-Westphalia, the Social Democrat-controlled state in which Ahaus is located, called the shipments a provocation and "irresponsible madness".

Activists say the waste containers are not leakproof and the cargo could cause an environmental disaster. They complain that the waste will sit indefinitely at the temporary site, as Germany has no plans yet for permanent storage.

Three previous nuclear waste transports since 1995, all to another temporary site in Gorleben, were hampered by fierce protests.

The latest cargo was brought on separate trains from nuclear power plants in the southern towns of Gundremmingen and Neckarwestheim for assembly at Walheim. In Neckarwestheim, hundreds of demonstrators staged a sit- in on Thursday blocking the power-plant entrance. Police in riot gear picked up the demonstrators and moved them away.