Contested French nuclear convoy nears Germany
The last trainload of German nuclear waste reprocessed in France neared the border Thursday after running a gauntlet of violent protests -- but more trouble awaited it in its homeland.
The train was at Remilly junction just 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the German border after a journey that began Wednesday on the north French coast with riot police battling anti-nuclear activists trying to block it.
Around 20,000 protestors were expected to turn out in Germany to try and stop it as it enters the last part of its 1,500-kilometre trip to Gorleben in eastern Germany, according to protest organisers.
Last November the train took 91 hours to arrive at its final destination -- an entire day longer than planned -- as it was dogged the length of the route by French and then German protesters.
Around 50,000 activists turned out in Germany to try to disrupt the train during that shipment.
Spooked by Japan's Fukushima disaster, Germany has decided to phase out its use of nuclear power, and thus bring to an end the controversial practice of sending radioactive waste overland to France for reprocessing.
Anti-nuclear activists want France to follow suit and shut its reactors, an idea firmly dismissed by President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The final shipment left a railway yard in the town of Valognes in Normandy, northwest France, more than an hour late Wednesday after police played cat and mouse with hundreds of activists, firing teargas and making 16 arrests.
There were no reports of any action by protestors overnight as the train travelled across France towards the German border.
There has long been widespread public opposition in Germany to nuclear power, which environmentalists believe presents an unacceptable radioactive threat to public health and the environment.
In March, the Japanese nuclear plant at Fukushima Daiichi was hit by an earthquake and a tsunami, triggering a meltdown and massive radiation leak -- and increasing worldwide concerns over nuclear power.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's German government buckled under political pressure and agreed to halt its reactors by 2022, forcing energy suppliers to close profitable plants and levying a tax on the reactors' fuel.
In the meantime, Germany will no longer send nuclear waste for reprocessing in France, but will instead stockpile it until a way is found to make it safe.
Fukushima also increased concerns in France, where Sarkozy's government has vowed to stand by the industry, despite attacks by Greens.
France produces 75 percent of its electricity needs in nuclear plants -- a higher proportion than any other country in the world -- and its electricity bills are around 25 percent cheaper than in its neighbours, a boon to industry.
According to pressure group Greenpeace, the shipment of 11 containers holds the same quantity of "highly radioactive" waste as the last one to leave the French reprocessing plant at La Hague for the German site at Gorleben.
Protesters are angry that Merkel's announced nuclear phase-out will take another decade, and that there is still no permanent storage site for the waste generated in the country's reactors.
© 2011 AFP