Protesters Rally Against Shipment of Nuclear Waste into Germany

House Questions Importance of Nuclear Energy in U.S. Energy Plan

* Sixty tons of nuclear waste were transported from France to the German waste dump at Gorleben amid protests by anti-nuclear activists this week. Some 4,000 protestors awaited the train carrying spent nuclear fuel from France. The waste was generated in German nuclear power plants and sent to France for reprocessing. German law requires that after reprocessing, the waste be returned to Germany.

More than 400 protestors were removed or detained by German police. Militant demonstrators destroyed police vehicles and damaged train tracks to prevent the shipment from passing. As one 17-year old protestor said, "The government has got to see how many people are against this."

Nuclear waste transport to Germany was recently resumed after shipments were suspended in 1998 because of radioactive leaks in some containers. The German government claims that it has revised the transport safety rules and welcomes the public pressure exerted by the peaceful protests. The protestors object to the generation of highly dangerous nuclear waste in Germany and aim to make the transport so costly that the government will be forced to halt its generation.

The train arrived at the German town of Dannenberg on March 29, one day late because of delays and setbacks caused by protestors along the route. The waste was tested for radioactivity at the highly protected depot, before being loaded onto trucks and shipped the remaining 12 miles to the waste dump at Gorleben. At Dannenberg, more than 1,000 police subdued the protestors with water cannons, while an appeal for calm was issued over a loudspeaker. The police accused the protestors of ripping up pavement and attacking officers, although one protestor claimed, "Everything was peaceful here until the police charged in. It seems like a war zone."

* A U.S. House of Representatives panel debated the role of nuclear energy in America's future energy plan at a hearing last week and discussed the lack of construction of new nuclear power plants due to 1979 accident at Three Mile Island. The panel also discussed new research and waste management issues.

Mary J. Hutzler, of the Energy Information Administration, said that nuclear energy comprises only 20 percent of the nation's total energy output. That number is expected to drop during the next 20 years as some reactors are retired and replaced by other technologies. No new orders for nuclear reactors combined with concerns about the lack of waste disposal solutions makes the future of nuclear energy questionable.

Senator Pete Domenici, who proposed a bill earlier this year that would boost the nation's nuclear energy program with more than $400 million, said, "As a nation, we cannot afford to lose the nuclear energy option until we are ready to specify with confidence how we are going to replace 22 percent of our electricity with some other sources offering comparable safety, reliability, low cost and environmental attributes."

In response to Senator Domenici's concerns, Anna Aurilio, of the U. S. Public Interest Research Group, responded that "Nuclear power is unsafe, unreliable, uneconomic and generates long-lived radioactive wastes for which there is no safe solution."

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