Route of radioactive waste convoy changed: protesters

6th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

The route of a highly controversial rail convoy carrying nuclear waste from France to Germany was changed early Saturday to avoid protesters, the group "Get Out of Nuclear" announced.

The anti-nuclear group had planned a series of demonstrations along the original route of the 14-carriage train carrying 123 tonnes of nuclear waste billed by opponents as the "most radioactive ever" on its way to Germany.

"Once again opacity is the rule in the nuclear question, leaving the population in ignorance of the risks it faces," the group said in a statement.

Protesters had earlier Friday chained themselves to train tracks a few hundred metres (yards) from Caen station in northwestern France, holding the train up for several hours before it resumed its journey to Gorleben.

Police arrested seven people, while three of those chained to the rails were taken to hospital "because they were burned during the extrication" a police source said, adding that the burns were "not serious".

The protesters chained their arms inside metal tubes and concrete in order to make it difficult to be released.

Protesters also unfurled a banner reading, "Our resistance knows no borders," said a statement from the Ganva non-violent anti-nuclear group.

"This nuclear convoy, the most radioactive ever, exposes the population to excessive risks. There is a risk to lives in the short term in case of an accident, but also a long-term risk to their health," the statement said.

The protest disrupted passenger trains travelling to and from Caen, with a dozen local trains cancelled and many others delayed, national rail operator SNCF said.

The train, which environmental lobby groups say is carrying waste with twice the radioactivity of the Chernobyl disaster, is headed to Gorleben in Germany.

The waste is on its way back to Germany -- where it was initially created in the generation of electricity -- after being treated at a plant in France by nuclear giant Areva.

It consists of 14 carriages: 11 with waste and three with riot police.

Areva spokesman Christophe Neugnot called criticism from groups such as Greenpeace "a smokescreen for anti-nuclear protestors to hide the fact that nuclear energy is taking off again in almost all European countries."

He dismissed concerns about possible leaks in transit, describing the train as a "fortress on wheels. The containers would survive a train hitting them at full speed."

Areva has also rejected the "most radioactive" tag, insisting the cargo is not as radioactive as the last load of waste they shipped back to Germany.

Around 30,000 demonstrators were expected to oppose the train's arrival in Germany, where around 16,000 police have reportedly been mobilised to deal with protests.

Areva says the waste is equivalent to that generated annually by the nuclear-generated electricity used by 24 million Germans.

The waste has been stabilised by being melted and mixed into glass cylinders, which are stored in so-called Castor containers.

Environmentalists say that the intermediate waste storage facility at Gorleben in northern Germany is not appropriate.

German lawmakers last week approved a bill extending the life of the country's 17 reactors by 12 years, although they were due to come offline in 2020. Opinion polls show that most Germans were against parliament's decision.

The convoy is the 11th of its kind to be sent back to Germany.

Almost 16,000 police were deployed in Germany for the previous such convoy in 2008, which protesters held up for 14 hours at the border.

© 2010 AFP

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