Nuclear waste train reaches plant despite protests

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A convoy of nuclear waste finally made it to a German storage depot today after facing a four-day struggle through protesters.

Police worked through the night to clear a road blocked by more than 3,000 people for the last stretch.

Anti-nuclear protesters had abseiled from bridges, undermined roads, and formed human shields across the shipment's route, in an attempt to slow it down.

A shepherdess even put her flock of 500 sheep and 60 goats across the road between Dannenberg - where the shipment was offloaded from train onto trucks - and Gorleben yesterday in a bid to slow it.

The German waste, which was reprocessed in France, set off by train on Friday on it its 930-mile journey from Valognes which took 92 hours, making this the longest the regular transport has ever taken, following a 79 hour trip in 2008.

Around 20,000 police secured the route, and there were sporadic clashes with demonstrators, although the protests remained largely peaceful.

The protests came after German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government voted to extend the life of the country's 17 atomic power plants by an average of 12 years.

"Whomever extends the time for atomic power plants, must also count on an extended time for atomic waste transports," said a spokesman for protest organisers.

In one of the largest scuffles, riot police on Sunday tried to stop up to 4,000 protesters heading through the woods onto the tracks near Dannenberg ahead of the nuclear waste train. Police used water cannons and pepper spray and wrestled with activists to break up the protest, but some still reached the line.

Nuclear energy has been unpopular since fallout from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine drifted over Germany.

On Saturday, at least 25,000 people - organisers gave the figure as more than 50,000 - demonstrated peacefully outside Dannenberg, the biggest protest ever against the shipments.

Activists say neither the waste containers nor the Gorleben site, a temporary storage facility, are safe.

Protests against the regular waste shipments faded somewhat after a previous government embarked a decade ago on plans to phase nuclear power out entirely by 2021 - but this year Mrs Merkel's government decided to extend the life of the nuclear plants. Parliament approved the plan last month.

Germany has no plans to build any new nuclear plants, but Mrs Merkel has argued atomic power is needed as a "bridging technology" to keep energy cheap and available as the country transitions to more reliance on renewable sources.

Germany receives waste shipments roughly every year under an agreement that sees spent fuel sent to France for reprocessing and returned for storage. Safety measures for the shipment involved sealing the solid nuclear waste in glass that is in turn encased in 16-inch-thick steel containers.