German police early Sunday began to clear thousands of anti-nuclear protestors from railroad tracks to allow the passage of a train carrying radioactive water from France for storage.
The police moved in around 0100 GMT to tracks around the town of Harlingen, telling several thousand protestors gathered there to clear out, according to AFP reporters at the scene.
With most demonstrators remaining where they were, the police began to remove them one by one two hours later. No violence was reported.
Police also removed eight activists from the Greenpeace environmental group, who had chained themselves to the train tracks near the nearby town of Luneburg.
Harlingen lies some 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the train’s final destination of Dannenburg where the 11 containers of German nuclear waste reprocessed in France are due to be unloaded.
Organisers said about 23,000 protestors had gathered in Dannenburg, while police put the number at 8,000. The train was expected to arrive at Dannenberg in broad daylight, for security reasons, on Sunday at the earliest.
From Dannenburg, the waste will be transported by heavy goods trucks the final 20 kilometres to Gorleben on the River Elbe, where it will be stored.
Protestors, mainly from Germany but also from Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Italy, had made their way to Dannenberg, organisers said.
Buses had left for the venue from more than 150 German towns.
About 20,000 police have been deployed along the train’s German route.
The train’s controversial load represented “44 times Fukushima”, according to Greenpeace, whose spokeswoman Matthias Edler said a single container could unleash “four times the radioactivity released” by the stricken Japanese nuclear reactor.
A number of largely peaceful protests have slowed the progress of the train since it left Normandy in France on Wednesday.
Activists blocked the train tracks at the town of Neunkirchen on Friday afternoon where the train stopped for five hours shortly after crossing the border to change engines.
There were isolated outbreaks of violence on Thursday and Friday in Metzingen, near Gorleben, where 10 masked people attacked police with bricks and smoke bombs but managed to escape arrest, said an AFP photographer at the scene.
Police said unknown assailants had set fire to two patrol cars.
The number of protestors at Dannenberg is less than half the number that turned out a year ago when Germany was at the height of a debate over nuclear power in the country.
In November 2010, tens of thousands of activists protested another shipment and delayed that train by a whole day.
Since then, in the wake of March’s nuclear disaster in Fukushima, the German government has decided to phase out its use of nuclear power by 2022 and close all plants, thus bringing to an end the controversial practice of sending radioactive waste overland to France for reprocessing.
“It’s like a friend telling you that he will stop smoking in 10 years,” said Jochen Stay, spokesman for the anti-nuclear body Ausgestrahlt (Radiated).
“You are not going to congratulate them just yet.”
This is expected to be the last such shipment from France. But from 2014, nuclear waste will be transported to Germany for storage from a British processing plant at Sellafield.
Germany is still debating the problem of storing nuclear waste, which has potentially harmful effects.
Environmentalists say that nuclear radiation in the Gorleben zone exceeds the authorised levels.