BONN — Once again, tens of thousands of antinuclear protesters have mobilized in Germany. They are deployed along the route by which six containers of highly radioactive waste are traveling by rail and truck across the country to an interim storage facility in Gorleben, in Lower Saxony.
For the third year in a row, thousands of police have mobilized to protect the shipment. This year, in the largest deployment of security forces in the history of the Federal Republic, 30,000 officers, is on the job to ensure the safe transport of the waste, despite the protests.
"Stop the Castor Shipment!" is the demonstrators' rallying cry.
They have laid logs over rail lines and dug holes in roads. As the container caravan, and the accompanying army of demonstrators, made its way along the last stretch of the route yesterday, protesters lobbed rocks at the caravan and set fire to straw laid across the road.
There were some injuries and arrests, but the trucks crawled along, accompanied by a phalanx of police, undeterred.
The protesters' real goal isn't to prevent shipment of the waste, but rather to make transporting it prohibitively expensive.
"We really want this to be the last time" that nuclear waste in the so-called Castor containers gets hauled to Gorleben, says Kerstin Mller, a leader of Germany's environmentalist party, the Greens, who was reached on her cellular phone as she sped toward Gorleben on her way to help blockade a street.
As in the previous two years, the Castor shipment has traveled like a slow-moving storm from southern Germany. Each year the security costs have been higher. The estimate for this year: $60 million, and it isn't over yet.
Of all the nuclear waste that is hauled to and fro in this country, why is the Castor "six pack" getting such attention?
"The shipment to Gorleben is significant because of the plan to build a permanent storage facility there. We're fighting to get Germany out of the nuclear power business," Ms. Mller says.
Environment Minister Angela Merkel met with protesters last week to insist the shipments go forward, among other reasons because two containers are filled with German nuclear materials that were processed in France and must return to Germany.
In 1995, Germany relied on nuclear power for 29.6 percent of electrical needs - compared with 76.1 percent for France and 19.9 percent for the United States.
The anti-Castor movement - the "resistance," as it is known - clearly has broad support. And not just from the traditional left, but from a wide range of Germans: farmers, retirees, clergy.
In one show of solidarity, a local fire department refused to provide water for a water cannon that police planned to use against the demonstrators.
A recent poll by the Forsa Institute in Berlin showed 61 percent of respondents favored Germany getting out of nuclear power over the medium term, that is, the next few years.
The Allensbach Institute in Allensbach, Germany, found 54.1 percent of respondents expressing "understanding" for the protesters' efforts to block the Castor shipments, against 39 percent who opposed the protests.
This weekend, a group of students and teachers - armed with with sleeping bags and air mattresses - "occupied" a local recreation center to keep it from being used by police brought in from other jurisdictions.
An 11-year-old brightly told a reporter, "My mother is a politician in [nearby] Lchow, and I have her express permission to be here."
But the real question is whether the protests will change policy - or just become an increasingly expensive nuisance.
The call for a multiparty "energy consensus" is as perennial as the protests.
A policy paper that Environment Minister Angela Merkel, a Christian Democrat, has called a "viable concept" has been developed but not fully taken up by politicians.
Chancellor Helmut Kohl's government favors a mix of energy sources, including the use of nuclear power.
The Greens are fundamentally opposed to nuclear power.
The Social Democrats' call for a phase-out of nuclear power. Their environmental spokesman, Michael Mller, has warned that the draft energy paper contains elements that would represent a back-pedaling on this policy if the party concurred.
"The government speaks of willingness to compromise," says an aide to Mr. Mller, "but meanwhile they're creating other facts on the ground."
The concern, he says, is that as more containers are delivered to the Gorleben facility - the current shipment will bring the count up to eight - it becomes likelier that Gorleben will end up as the permanent storage site. The aide says Mller has "grave doubts" that Gorleben is geologically suited for long-term storage.
Environment Ministry spokesman Jrgen Jakobs says there has been no decision on Gorleben as a long-term site, but that all scientific indicators so far speak in favor of its suitability as a long-term solution.