DANNENBERG, Germany — A train delivering 60 tons of nuclear waste to a German storage site was forced to retreat Wednesday after protesters clashed with police and some chained themselves to the rails.
Police and medical crews worked through the night to dislodge four chained protesters who lay across the tracks in freezing temperatures, removing the last one around noon Wednesday. At times, the buzz of heavy drills echoed through the North German woods.
"I don't think even these people expected it to last so long," police spokesman Wolfgang Klages said. "Now the tracks will have to be repaired."
After sporadic protests Tuesday along the route across Germany, the 15-hour rail blockade further delayed the train's arrival at the north German town of Dannenberg.
From the end of the rail line in Dannenberg, flatbed trucks will bring the six containers — each with about 10 tons of radioactive waste sealed in 28 glass casks — to the Gorleben nuclear waste dump, ending the waste's 375-mile trip from a French reprocessing plant.
Officials hoped the convoy, which reversed early Wednesday to a station some 16 miles short of Dannenberg, would arrive later in the day at the town's rail terminal.
But more small groups still occupied the tracks and several hundred protesters skirmished in Dannenberg with police, who cleared away makeshift roadblocks.
Riot police sent reinforcements to the northern German town after militants threw stones, fired flares and set a police car afire Tuesday night. Police replied with water cannon and baton charges.
Police said five officers were injured in the clashes, one seriously. Some 600 protesters were taken into custody. The protesters said dozens on their side were injured. About 20,000 police were in action in Germany's biggest security operation in years after militants turned the last transport in 1997 into chaos.
In Berlin, the government urged calm Wednesday. Interior Minister Otto Schily told a regular Cabinet meeting he "was concerned at the violence on the part of a militant minority," government spokesman Uwe-Karsten Heye said.
The protesters object to what they say is highly dangerous radioactive waste being transported through Germany, and hope to make the transports so costly the government will call them to a halt.
Police vans were stationed along the approach road to the dump at Gorleben and the road was sealed off with barbed wire, while officers on horseback patrolled the nearby forest and heat-sensitive cameras were being used.
Throughout Tuesday, the convoy was greeted by sporadic protests as it chugged northeast from France. It took a detour to avoid the university city of Goettingen, where hundreds of people briefly occupied the tracks. Dozens of people were arrested along the route.
German and French leaders agreed on a resumption of nuclear waste traffic last January, with the German government saying it has tightened safety rules for the transports since the previous administration suspended shipments in 1998 because of radioactive leaks on some containers.
Spent nuclear fuel from German power plants is sent abroad for reprocessing, but the contracts oblige Germany to take back the resulting waste.