Nuclear Waste Shipment Enters Germany

DANNENBERG, Germany -- Demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails at police, setting a vehicle on fire, as skirmishes intensified Friday after a shipment of nuclear waste reprocessed in France crossed into Germany on its way to a controversial storage site.

The clash broke out in the afternoon between about 400 riot police and 300 demonstrators in the woods outside the northern German town of Dannenberg, near the storage facility at Gorleben where the nuclear waste is being transported by train.

Protesters threw Molotov cocktails and other pyrotechnics at officers, setting a police transport van ablaze, said federal police spokesman Martin Ackert. As a fire truck tried to rush to the scene, demonstrators blocked it, then punctured its tires before fleeing into the forest, he said.

Nobody was injured in the incident, and there were no arrests, Ackert said.

Nearby, 30 people occupied the train tracks in effort to hinder the shipment, while in another clash police turned their water canons on demonstrators to break up a protest, Ackert said.

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Nuclear energy has been unpopular in Germany since fallout from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine drifted over the country and the annual shipment has been a traditional focal point for protesters.

This is the first shipment, however, since Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to shut all Germany's nuclear plants by 2022, following safety questions raised after the disaster at Fukushima in Japan.

While other countries are also following suit or considering doing so, neighboring France is still committed to nuclear power, with President Nicolas Sarkozy insisting Friday that it would be "madness" to reduce his country's high reliance on it.

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

The train carrying the annual shipment entered western Germany in the morning after delays in France, where activists damaged railtracks in an attempt to halt the cargo.

The train hauling 11 containers of nuclear waste is expected to reach its destination sometime over the weekend.

Though police said fewer demonstrators are anticipated overall this year due to Berlin's decision, some 20,000 officers are still on hand to secure the shipment to Gorleben.

Officials are yet to resolve where such waste should be stored permanently -- and activists argue the Gorleben site is unsafe.

German police used water cannons Thursday night as protesters tried to block a crossroads at Metzingen, near the shipment's destination after fireworks and paint were thrown at officers.

In France, riot police on Wednesday fired tear gas at anti-nuclear protesters in a Normandy field, while activists damaged a railway which delayed the train's departure.

While other countries have renounced atomic energy in Fukushima's aftermath, France has remained a bastion of nuclear power. France depends on it for three-quarters of its electricity, more than any other country.

Sarkozy, who is expected to seek re-election in April, argued that abandoning nuclear energy would destroy jobs.