Nuclear waste dodges French protests on way to Germany

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A controversial train carrying a radioactive cargo of nuclear waste crept across eastern France towards Germany on Saturday, after switching its route overnight to avoid protesters.

Green activists had attempted to block the train's route on Friday as it left a French reprocessing plant, but the nuclear power firm Areva changed the route and by dawn it was within 200 kilometres (130 miles) of the frontier.

"The train is under surveillance. We don't want it moving in secret, as Areva seems to want," said Laura Hameaux, a spokeswoman for the pressure group "Sortir du Nucleaire" (Get out of Nuclear).

Hameaux said the train had passed through Bar-le-Duc and was headed east towards Germany. Protesters were shadowing it and a large demonstration was planned in the town of Reding, 50 kilometres outside Strasbourg.

The group said it would not try to physically stop the train, and that it was expected to cross the border into Germany at around 12.30pm (1130 GMT).

Anti-nuclear campaigners had planned a series of demonstrations along the original route of the 14-wagon train carrying 123 tonnes of nuclear waste and billed by opponents as the "most radioactive ever".

Areva insists that the load is not unusual for the industry.

On Friday. protesters 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.

"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 train is headed to Gorleben in Germany after being treated in France. The waste was originally created during power generation in Germany.

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.

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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