German authorities have confirmed that Russian nuclear experts will be allowed to airlift about 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of enriched uranium from a Soviet-era nuclear research reactor in Germany.
Anti-nuclear transport protests are a common sight in Germany
Anti-nuclear demonstrators are a common sight in Germany. Virtually every year, thousands of activists chain themselves to railroad tracks and clash with police to protest against nuclear transports to and from France, where German nuclear waste is reprocessed.
Activists have now been given a fresh reason for being up in arms, as Germany and Russia have agreed to airlift 300 kilograms of enriched uranium out of Germany -- much of it suitable for building atomic bombs.
According to authorities, some 200 of the 300 kilogram shipment consists of highly-enriched uranium, which theoretically could be used to fuel around 10 nuclear weapons.
Green campaigners believe nuclear waste should not cross borders
The decision caused a storm of protest from German anti-nuclear campaigners, who have long been protesting against shipping nuclear fuels across Europe. They say an airlift of the material to Russia would be irresponsible.
"We cannot understand at all why this transport of highly-enriched uranium should be carried out by airplane," said Tobias Münchmeyer, a nuclear expert working for Greenpeace Germany. "This is irresponsible because it is much more dangerous than by rail."
"Without a doubt it will provoke strong protests," he added.
The material is waste from a research reactor that was built by the Soviet Union in East Germany. The reactor is currently being torn down, and its spent fuel rods are now to be reprocessed in Russia.
Many feel transporting the waste by plane will make it vulnerable to attacks
In spite of the protests, German nuclear authorities this week gave the green light for the airlift, saying the transport in a special Russian cargo plane was absolutely safe.
But activists reject transports of nuclear waste across borders.
"We believe that every country with a nuclear industry should keep the nuclear waste it creates within its own borders," said Münchmeyer. "That is why the German material must remain at the reactor site until a solution to the problem of final storage in Germany has been found."
The recovery of the uranium is part of a joint Russian-American program in cooperation with a United Nations nuclear watchdog called Global Threat Reduction Initiative. Its aim is to find, secure and recover dangerous nuclear materials around the world to prevent them from falling into the hands of terrorists.
German authorities said the precise day of the transport will not be disclosed, adding, however, that this was not because of a fear of violent protests.