German Nuclear Shipments Resuming
BERLIN (AP) _ Germany will resume transports of highly radioactive waste from nuclear power plants after a nearly two-year ban triggered by safety concerns, the government said Wednesday.
The nuclear safety agency announced it had approved shipments from three power plants to a temporary storage site at Ahaus near the Dutch border after safety rules were tightened.
The rail transports have been a focal point for German anti-nuclear protesters for years, often triggering clashes with police escorting the sealed containers.
Some of the waste will travel about 250 miles from Neckarwestheim in southwestern Germany. Transports aren’t expected to resume until August because of lengthy approval procedures, officials said.
The previous German government suspended the transports in May 1998 after radioactive contamination beyond legal levels was detected on the outside of the containers.
Since then, waste has been piling up in limited storage sites at Germany’s 19 nuclear plants, some of which are threatened with closure unless transports resume this year.
The transports have been a contentious issue in the government’s negotiations with the energy industry on weaning Germany off nuclear power.
Environment Minister Juergen Trittin, a member of the Greens party, issued a statement Wednesday warning operators that demonstrations could heat up again unless they join in sincere talks to phase out nuclear energy.
German nuclear power operators have contracts with nuclear waste reprocessing plants in Britain and France, and Trittin had sought a permanent ban on waste exports by Jan. 1. But Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder overruled Trittin after an outcry from the operators and threats from London and Paris to seek compensation if the lucrative contracts were canceled.
The Federal Radiation Safety Office in Berlin said it had approved the transport of the waste from nuclear plants at Biblis, Neckarwestheim and Philippsburg, all in western Germany.
Greenpeace, the environmental group, was quick to criticize the decision.
``It is irresponsible that the interests of the nuclear industry take precedence over the safety of railway workers, police and those living near the rail routes,″ spokeswoman Susanne Ochse said.