Atom convoy diverted as German Swampys tunnel under road

A watch-tower with reflector lights guards over Camp Gusborn on the front line separating nuclear power from the people. A sign reminds inmates of an alcohol ban, and instructs them to keep dogs on a lead.

You might think this canvas Colditz was the creation of the "nuclear state", synonymous in Gorleben mythology with the "police state". In reality, Camp Gusborn's tents provide temporary shelter for 1,200 autonomists, anarchists and drop-outs, unsure of their ideology, who set the rules themselves.

Judging by the empty beer bottles and the vacant expressions on the faces of some residents, the ban on alcohol and drugs is flexible. But in all other respects the tenants are a faithful reflection of German society, straining to maintain a semblance of order even on the brink of anarchy.

They sort their rubbish - tucking it away neatly in bags of different colours - and in the evenings endeavour to keep the noise down. These are Swampy's German cousins - militant environmentalists who have been digging trenches under a road in an effort to stop nuclear waste reaching its "medium-term" destination.

Ever vigilant of the "police state", they have no names, and cover up the number-plates on their cars. Most of them are young with exotic but clean hair-dos, sporting aggressive badges and a disarmingly mild manner. "I came here from Bremen because I'm against nuclear power," says a 17- year-old girl. She does not know who runs the camp, has not the faintest idea where the food that is served up to her comes from, and questions about political parties draw a blank. She is here to force the "castors" - the nuclear waste containers - to turn back.

A 22-year-old man from Berlin is here "because of the nuclear shit," and also "because this is a great place to meet people". He is unemployed, but couldn't care less about that, or politics or anything else other than nuclear power. Asked to comment on the government's policies, he politely declines.

There are about ten camps nestling among the forests, all with slightly different tasks and inhabitants. Near the nuclear site at Gorleben are lesbians who will only participate in single-sex protests. Their neighbours are the protesters' crack troops, the "Dykes on Bikes", who can be despatched to trouble-spots at short notice.

At the Splietau Camp near the railway terminal of Dannenberg, the emphasis is on passive resistance. At the other extreme, hooded youths dressed in black lurk, biding their time. These veterans of public disorder, present at every demonstration whatever the cause, will be throwing the stones and Molotov cocktails if trouble flares today.

Gusborn is about one-third of the way along the road linking Dannenberg, where the nuclear waste was loaded on to trucks yesterday morning, and Gorleben, the atomic cemetery.

The Gusborn residents were asked by organisers to make the road impassable and by yesterday morning had completed the task.

"The road is kaput," said a picket bursting with pride, and he was not exaggerating. For a distance of about half a mile, tunnels had been dug under the tarmac at 30 yard intervals, turning a solid highway into a series of flimsy pontoon bridges.

The excavated earth is heaped on top of the asphalt, the clumpy barricades reinforced at intervals with bits of concrete and the gaps filled with bales of straw which can be lit as the convoy approaches.

The 100-tonne lorries will not come this way, however, thanks to Camp Gusborn. The tent dwellers, their jobs well done, were loafing about yesterday awaiting new instructions.

With their road out of action, police and protesters alike switched their attention to one of the few alternative routes, a mile north of Gusborn. Here, along the so-called Quickborn route, a thousand activists tried to seize the road yesterday afternoon, but were driven back at every attempt.

Last night, convoys of police vans, prison lorries and water cannon were racing towards Dannenberg as the final battle loomed. The trucks carrying the nuclear waste are less than 20 miles from Gorleben, but their journey will not be simple.