Anti-nuclear marches have been taking place across Germany and Europe on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. With past and present catastrophes on their minds, marchers want an end to atomic power.
Protesters want change now
European nuclear power opponents hope to leverage political change from the anniversary of the meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear plant 25 years ago. One major demonstration took place in Strasbourg, while thousands of the "Easter marchers" in Germany coordinated their routes to finish at nuclear plants.
Around 700 people gathered on the Pont de l'Europe, a bridge in Strasbourg that connects the French city with the German town of Kehl. The majority of the protesters hailed from the German side of the border.
Activists were marking the anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at Chernobyl in 1986, as well as Japan's nuclear accident at Fukushima, and demanding the closure of France's oldest nuclear power station at Fessenheim.
Protesters waved banners decorated with anti-nuclear slogans and shouted statements such as "Chernobyl, Fukushima, never again!"
Across the border, at sites across Germany, tens of thousands of Easter Monday demonstrators also marched on nuclear power plants.
At the Biblis plant in the southwest of the country, which has been temporarily shut down as part of a government moratorium since the Fukushima crisis began last month, police estimated that 10,000 protesters turned out to demand the site is closed for good.
Thousands turned out to protest at Biblis
Erhard Renz, one of the organizers of the Biblis demonstration, told Deutsche Welle that the march was about remembrance but also had a contemporary aim, saying the nuclear disasters of both past and present can shape the future.
"There is a good reason why we are holding this march right here and in front of many other stations. We want our government to pull the plug on nuclear power - for good," he said.
"After Fukushima it's now clear enough that the danger of nuclear power is real. We cannot allow the business needs of the very few to destroy our world - like what happened 25 years ago."
Police estimated that over 10,000 people marched on the Grafenrheinfeld power plant and 5,000 on the reactor at Grohnde. Organizers of the protests estimated far higher tallies, with the BUND environmental group saying 120,000 people had protested across Germany. The Easter Monday demonstrations, a German tradition, addressed several other issues in addition to nuclear power, including NATO's involvement in Afghanistan and Libya.
Chernobyl death count still debated
In the early hours of April 26, 1986, workers at the Chernobyl atomic power station in Ukraine were carrying out a test on reactor four when operating errors and design flaws sparked successive explosions.
The radioactive debris landed around the reactor, creating an apocalyptic scene in the surrounding area, while material also blew into the neighboring Soviet republics of Belarus and Russia and further into Western Europe.
Twenty-five years later, controversy continues to rage over the number of deaths related to the disaster, with estimates ranging from a few dozen to nearly 100,000 victims over time.
There is no consensus as to how contaminated the areas around Chernobyl were
Several United Nations agencies published a report in 2005 saying that a total of approximately 4,000 people could ultimately die as a result of radiation exposure.
Those findings were dismissed by environmental groups as grossly underestimated, with Greenpeace saying Chernobyl would ultimately cause around 93,000 fatal cancer cases.
After the disaster, the Soviet authorities constructed a temporary concrete shell to limit the contamination emanating from the destroyed reactor four. Concerns over the durability of the sarcophagus have led to plans for a new structure to be erected over the reactor in the coming years.
A conference held last week by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which is in charge of the project, raised some 550 million euros ($785 million), many millions short of the 740 million euros still needed for completion.
Author: Gabriel Borrud, Mark Hallam (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Nancy Isenson