Almost every year in November a train load of radioactive waste rolls through Germany. Each time it meets considerable public objection. UP to a few thousand protesters turn out at the tracks to stop the convoy. Police, outnumbering them by far, try to keep the route clear. Last year it took the shipment 92 hours to go the roughly 800 miles from the nuclear reprocessing plant in La Hague, France, to the destination - the interim storage facility at Gorleben in northern Germany. This year the train, its high-level waste in eleven dry-cask storage cars, started last Wednesday and did not finish before Monday night. That’s a new record for the protesters, 126 hours, even though their numbers were way smaller than last year's crowd. Each side complains about the brutality of the other. The police counted 100 injured officers; protesters said they have more than 350 hurt.
The protests are not aimed primarily at the traveling trash,mostly spent fuel rods from German nuclear power plants that are coming back from reprocessing plants in neighboring countries. The underlying objection is to nuclear power. Germany has decided to phase-out atomic energy by 2022 but that is not soon enough for many. And just over the borders with neighbors such as France and the Czech Republic nuclear power prospers. Plus there is the still unsolved problem of finding an adequate final radioactive waste repository. Tobias Muenchmeyer, a Greenpeace activist, criticized in the FAZ http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/endlager-suche-die-hybris-11542026... ">the hubris behind that idea that mankind could build a storage facility rigid enough to survive a million years. The news agency dpa describes the alternative (here reprinted in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung) the old salt mine in Morsleben, Saxony-Anhalt, and quotes sources estimating that it’ll take at least 25 years for authorities to conclude they found the best place.
Some newspapers wrote that this transport was the last since there is no German nuclear waste left in La Hague. But as Malte Kreutzfeldt wrote in the taz there is more trash in Scotland waiting for the journey back to Germany. In another piece Kreutzfeldt described how four farmers stopped the train by chaining themselves to the tracks.
50 years after the drug Contergan was taken off the market Philipp Osten in the Frankfurter Rundschau reminds of the thousands of victims of what today is known as the “Contergan scandal” in Germany. The active ingredient thalidomide was introduced as a sedative drug in 1957. Because it was advertised to have no unwanted side effects it was often prescribed to pregnant women. At this time it was not known that one optical isomer of thalidomide constrains the growth of blood vessels in the limbs of unborn children. Babies whose mothers took the drug during pregnancy were borne limbless or with flipperlike arms and legs. Thalidomide caused birth defects in more than 10,000 cases till it was withdrawn in 1961. The case is a bitter example for the dangers of modern medicine and the limits of drug testing. Thalidomide wasn’t tested sufficiently for teratogenicity.
At least half the cases could have been prevented if only the manufacturer Gruenenthal had reacted faster, news agency dpa quotes a source. The company pays between 300 and 1100 Euro monthly annuity per case. A group of victims – all in their fifties today – is still fighting for more money – and an apology.
There were only a few cases in the US. Thanks to former FDA staff member Frances Oldham Kelsey thousands of newborns were saved from the perils of the drug thalidomide. She refused approval for an application from the Richardson-Merell company to market thalidomide, saying further studies were needed. Last year the New York times told her story. “The thalidomide disaster led Congress to pass legislation giving the FDA authority to demand that drug makers prove their products safe and effective. Moreover, Dr. Kelsey helped write the rules that now govern nearly every clinical trial in the industrialized world, and was the first official to oversee them.”