Thousands in France mark Chernobyl with nuclear protests
Thousands staged anti-nuclear protests around France on Monday, demanding reactors be closed on the eve of the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl and after Japan's Fukushima nuclear accident.
Between 6,000 and 9,000 mostly German activists took to different bridges on the Rhine between Germany and France, AFP journalists reported, with the main Easter Monday demonstration involving hundreds in a so-called "die in" at Strasbourg.
The protest at the midway point on the Pont de l'Europe joining Strasbourg in eastern France and Kehl in Germany aimed to show that "radioactivity knows no borders," said organiser Remi Verdet.
"We're here to remind people that zero risk does not exist," he said.
The protests marking the worst ever nuclear accident at Chernobyl in the Ukraine on April 26, 1986 and Fukushima were also aimed at getting France, proportionally the world's biggest user of nuclear power, to shut ageing plants.
Protesters carrying Japanese and Ukrainian flags dropped to the tarmac as sirens wailed for the "die in", before they threw flowers into the Rhine in memory of those killed by nuclear accidents.
A powerful March 11 earthquake followed by a giant tsunami cut the electricity to Fukushima's nuclear reactors, shutting down the cooling system and leading to the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.
Protesters' demands were focused on getting France to shut its oldest nuclear power station at Fessenheim.
In service since 1977, the Fessenheim plant lies in a densely-populated part of France, less than two kilometres from Germany and around 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Switzerland.
French television presenter and green activist Nicolas Hulot, who announced earlier this month that he hopes to run as an environmentalist candidate in the 2012 presidential election, is due to attend the Pont de l'Europe protest.
"Fukushima is what finally convinced me that nuclear power can no longer be the answer to the planet's energy future," Hulot told journalists ahead of the protest.
"I was one of those who had a certain trust in the arguments of pro-nuclear engineers. Their arguments are today losing their edge in the face of the facts."
Some protesters heckled Hulot for his recent anti-nuclear "conversion."
Around 2,000 people, including many Germans and Luxembourgeois, also protested at the Cattenom atomic plant, France's second most powerful, in the Mosel region to the northwest of Strasbourg, officials said.
Protesters in southwestern France staged another demonstration in the form of a mass picnic in front of the Blayais nuclear reactor, north of Bordeaux, also in memory of Chernobyl.
"We can't stop tsunamis but we can stop nuclear power stations," read one banner.
Organisers said around 1,000 people took part, while police put the number at 600.
"June 12 will be the 30th anniversary of reactor number one entering service, its originally planned lifetime by (electricity group) EDF," said protest organiser Stephane Lhomme.
"This and all plants that are over 30 years old must be closed," he said.
In France's northwestern region of Brittany, around 800 people staged a good-humoured march in front of the Brennilis experimental heavy-water atomic plant that was built in the 1960s.
It was taken offline in 1985 but its dismantling has proven more complex than thought and is still not completed over 25 years later.
France's Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) has said that French nuclear security has not yet taken into account the kind of accumulation of natural catastrophes that led to Japan's disaster.
The French government has told the ASN to carry out a security audit at France's 58 active atomic reactors. The results of the audit are expected by the end of the year.
French authorities at the time of the Chernobyl disaster were criticised for a lack of transparency, with many interpreting officials' declarations as saying that radioactive pollution had not crossed the border from Germany into France.
© 2011 AFP