The World from Berlin Anti-Nuclear Protesters to Merkel: 'Enough Is Enough'

A train loaded with radioactive waste ended its controversial journey through Germany on Monday. Its path had been blocked by up to 50,000 protesters over the weekend, sparking violent clashes between police and anti-nuclear activists. Commentators on Monday take stock of the political repercussions.

DPA

A shipment of radioactive waste being transported from a nuclear reprocessing site in France to a storage site near the northern German village of Gorleben met with mass protests from German anti-nuclear campaigners over the weekend.

The train carrying so-called Castor containers -- an acronym for the casks used for storage and transport of radioactive material -- was stopped repeatedly as it traveled across France and Germany. In Germany, thousands staged sit-in strikes on the railway line and some removed stones from around the tracks to destabilize them and slow the train's progress. Police removed protesters who dangled themselves from ropes beneath bridges to prevent the train from passing.

Castor transports have been accompanied by demonstrations ever since major shipments started 15 years ago. But the protests were bigger and more violent this year, reflecting anger over Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to extend the lifespan of Germany's 17 nuclear power plants. The German government under then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder moved in 2001 to phase out nuclear energy in the country, but Merkel recently moved to extend the lifespans of atomic power plants by an average of 12 years each.

"It was never this bad!" the mass-circulation Bild newspaper wrote its front page. It said that 17,000 police had been deployed at a cost of €50 million ($70.4 million) to ensure the train reached its destination. The Green Party said that as many as 50,000 anti-nuclear protesters joined the demonstrations.

More Protests Planned

On Monday morning, the train pulled in to the town of Dannenberg, where the 123 tons of radioactive waste must now be loaded onto trucks for the final 20-kilometer (12-mile) journey by road to Gorleben. Both protesters and police are gearing up for more demonstrations along the route.

Press commentators on Monday focused on the political repercussions of the protests. Support for the Green Party, already running at an all-time high, is seen swelling, at the same time increasing pressure on Angela Merkel's coalition government of conservative Christian Democrats and the business-friendly Free Democratic Party.

On Monday, opinions at Germany's various newspapers seem to mirror their general left or right political bias.

The left-leaning Tageszeitung writes:

"The structure of the protest community has changed significantly from previous years. Those who in the past sympathized with the movement but stayed at home are now joining the demonstrations. Protesters who have been there before have now joined the sit-in blockades. And the veteran sit-in protesters have now started sabotaging railway tracks, meaning that they could face prison sentences or beatings."

"Thousands of people have decided enough is enough -- and have opened the door to their personal emancipation. By ignorantly pushing through big politically and economically motivated projects, the government is facing a wave of hopeful self-empowerment."

"This weekend sends a clear message: You can achieve a lot if you want to. And there are many of you."

The conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"It is not only violence which discredits the message of the peaceful protests. The heads of the Green Party are using the event to stage an embarrassing anti-nuclear photo opportunity with their fans. (Green Party leaders) Claudia Roth, Jürgen Trittin and Cem Özdemir are doing everything possible to squeeze a party political advantage out of the demonstrators' concerns. In fact, the Castor transports also took place under the previous center-left government and Trittin even called for an end to the demonstrations in 2001. But that has been brushed aside with the somewhat sloppy argument that back then there were plans for a nuclear phase-out."

"But there's no mention of the fact that switching to renewables by 2020 will not cover our energy requirements, and therefore the coal power stations will have to produce more of our power. More and more power stations have been built in Germany since the decision to phase out nuclear. These power stations have a disastrous impact on the climate."

"The Left Party's Gregor Gysi also drives a tractor over a field and complains about the growing cleft between citizens and the government. But people democratically elected the current government, with its program that includes the extension of the lifespans of nuclear power stations. Lots of Bundesliga professional football games attract bigger crowds than Wendland."

The left-leaning Frankfurter Rundschau writes:

"This weekend, Wendland felt like a time machine. It witnessed the return to an era which many believed was over. Sit-in protests and demonstrations against tear gas and water cannons -- rather than real politics."

"And it is true. (Merkel's) center-right, conservative-liberal coalition was elected with its plans to return to nuclear energy: Maybe because of that plan, or perhaps despite it. Surveys demonstrate, however, that the government does not have a majority of citizens behind it. The current escalation is entirely its fault. After all, neither the extension of the lifespan of nuclear power plants, nor the Gorleben decision (in March, the German Environment Ministry said it would reverse a 10-year moratorium on research into whether Gorleben is suitable as a permanent nuclear disposal site, sparking criticism from the Green Party and environmentalists) was factually justified. Merkel's government is consistently fulfilling the wishes of the power companies."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Above all, the Castor is a symbol for the unsolved problems of the German energy economy. After all, it is not enough to load the material into containers, load it on a train and transport it to Gorleben. The atomic waste has to be disposed of securely and there is still no clear plan for this."

"There is no plan for dealing with the nuclear waste, and the Castor transportation is nothing more than a rolling symbol of this helplessness. It is for this reason that the long-standing protests against Castor were, and remain, so important: They helped to bolster awareness of the great problem of the nuclear and energy economy. The protests against Gorleben have become a movement, led by housewives, priests, teachers and farmers."

"But it is a fiasco for this peaceful protest when it is discredited by violence. ... Anyone who destroys a (train) track bed is just as much a criminal as a person who sabotages railway transportation by damaging overhead power lines or by sawing through train tracks, as has happened in past years. Let there be no doubt -- anyone who does such a thing is both dangerous and dumb. Violence switches attention from the important energy debate into a discussion about national security."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"If it's true that the Greens are on their way to the center of society, then they are moving there at top speed aboard a tractor. Not a single Green Party leader could resist mounting a tractor and seizing a great photo opportunity."

"The Greens' rise is especially difficult for (Social Democratic Party leader) Sigmar Gabriel. He is doing everything he can to attract some of the Greens' limelight, but has to face up to the fact that he is far removed from the issue."

-- Jess Smee

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