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Nuclear waste train on collision course

A train laden with nuclear waste is expected to begin the final leg of its journey today along railway lines flanked by 30,000 police officers and border guards, to a burial site in northern Germany ringed by an equal number of militant environmentalists.

A violent confrontation between the two forces appears inevitable. Defying a ban on dem- onstrations along the tracks, protesters are bent on disrupting the most sensitive stage in the complex operation: the moment when the six highly radioactive containers are loaded on to trucks in the small town of Dannenberg to be transported by road to the Gorleben storage depot 12 miles away.

Gorleben has been the focus of anti-nuclear protests for several years, but this year's battle will be costlier than previous ones. The biggest security sweep since the war, featuring riot police, helicopters, water canons and a tank, will cost taxpayers about DM100m (pounds 36m), adding a hefty premium to the already high price of atomic power.

Gorleben is one of the few places in Germany where radio-active waste can be stored in the "medium term" - a few decades. Others have been vetoed by campaigners and plans for reprocessing plants scrapped.

The train arriving this week will be carrying six containers - "castors" - of spent and reprocessed fuel, still heated to temperatures of several hundred degrees by the ongoing fission. Even the forces of law and order have not been convinced of official assurances that the castors are safe. The police officers' trade union has demanded Geiger counters for all members involved in the security operation.