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26 November 2011

last nuclear waste train from France to Germany generates physical, political heat

Click image to enlarge.

After the Fukushima nuclear plant accident in Japan, Angela Merkel guided Germany to end nuclear power generation within a few years. But those nuclear power facilities that remain still require activities associated with the nuclear fuel cycle, including the transport by rail of nuclear waste to reprocessing facilities in France, and then the return trip to Germany to store the waste.

These infrared (heat) images of CASTOR nuclear material containers were taken by Greenpeace recently of a nuclear waste transport train on its way back from France to Germany. The whole "point" of nuclear power is that fissile material -- uranium and plutonium -- generates heat, which boils water, which spins turbines. Even after the fuel rods are spent and reprocessed, the fissile material remains quite hot -- in the case of some isotopes, for many thousands of years. Governments and international agencies must design policies, facilities, and transport systems (land and sea) to take into account the chemical and physical behavior of these materials for millennia.

In parliamentary elections a few days ago, Greenpeace made its strongest showing in 20 years, and has emerged as the third party which will have the power to approve or block the next federal ruling coalitions. DE Greenpeace has also broadened its focus beyond environmental concerns to economic policy reform as the EuroZone experiences major difficulties with the economies of several of its member nations.

As Germany sunsets its nuclear program, France leads the world in reliance on nuclear power generation. In free market nations, calculating the cost per kilowatt of nuclear power generation rarely, if ever, takes into account the cost of police and military protection against political protests. 


Deutsche Welle (television)
Saturday 26 November 2011

German protesters rally
against nuclear waste train

[photo:] Police carry away an anti-nuclear protester. There were clashes between protesters and riot police
A train carrying radioactive atomic waste from France has entered Germany despite efforts by anti-nuclear protesters to block the transport. The train is headed to a storage site which activists say is unsafe.

A train carrying 150 tons of reprocessed nuclear waste from northern France arrived in the northern German state of Lower Saxony on Saturday after meeting with protests and clashes along the way.

The train, on its way to a storage facility in northern Germany, was delayed by anti-nuclear protesters for more than 24 hours on the French side of border.

Several protests took place as the train made its progress through Germany. On one occasion, 200 activists occupied the rails to block the train's further progress. Police reported that they had cleared the tracks in a "largely peaceful" manner, although several arrests were made.

Jochen Stay, a spokesman for the anti-nuclear group "Ausgestrahlt" (Irradiated), told public television that there would be more attempts to block the train as it neared its destination in Gorleben, northeastern Germany.

"There will of course be action taken to block it when it approaches," he said from Dannenberg, some 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Gorleben, where the waste will be stored. "People will block the tracks and the roads," he warned.

"But we do not want this to escalate. We want the police to act sensibly and appropriately with people."

Fierce protests

[photo:] A policeman in riot gear covered in paint. Police were the targets of bottles and paint bombs in Lower Saxony.

A total of 19,000 police officers have been deployed to secure the "Castor" (Cask for Storage and Transport Of Radioactive material) transport carrying 11 containers of nuclear waste.

Protests began near the train’s destination, the temporary storage facility at Gorleben, long before the train had even crossed into Germany.

On Thursday evening, and again in the early hours of Saturday morning, police used a water cannon to break up a camp of hundreds of protesters who were blocking a crossing, throwing rocks, paint bombs and small fireworks in the town of Wendland in the northern German state of Lower Saxony.

There were several other, peaceful protests in the states of Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate, and along other possible routes for the Castor train.

Last delivery

This shipment of German nuclear waste reprocessed in France is to be the last of its kind, due to the German government's decision to phase out its use of atomic energy following the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power station earlier this year.

A train carrying 11 castor containers of nuclear wasteThe train crossed the border near Saarbrücken

German Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to shut down eight of Germany's nuclear power plants in the wake of  the Fukushima disaster, and later said all its remaining nuclear capacity would be taken off the grid by 2022.

Starting in 2012, no German nuclear waste will be sent to France for reprocessing, with the waste simply being stockpiled instead. Nuclear waste reprocessing extracts reusable elements like plutonium and uranium, but does not reduce the radioactivity of the waste.

Germany's anti-nuclear movement is considered one of Europe's strongest. Protesters oppose the transport on several grounds, saying it poses a threat to residents and the environment near the train's path in the event of an accident or an attack.

They also say such transports draw attention to what they see as atomic energy's biggest unsolved problem: the disposal of waste. The waste being transported to the site at Gorleben will remain potentially hazardous for thousands of years.

A delaying action

A year ago, at the height of a furious debate over nuclear power in Germany, tens of thousands turned out to protest against the shipment, managing to delay the train by a whole day.

An estimated 50,000 opponents of nuclear power staged a series of demonstrations along the route of an earlier transport, delaying the delivery of the radioactive waste by almost two days. Arrests and allegations of excessive police force brought the issue more strongly into the public consciousness.

Anti-nuclear organizations have said they expect around 20,000 people to join the protests against this year’s delivery.

On Saturday morning, the train was stopped again for less than an hour near Friedland, just across the state border of Lower Saxony from Hesse, where 100 demonstrators squatting on the rails had to be removed by police, news agency dpa reported.

Authors: Richard Connor, Stuart Tiffen (AFP, dapd, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Sonia Phalnikar

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CASTOR (nuclear waste)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
CASTOR (cask for storage and transport of radioactive material) is a trademarked brand of dry casks used to store spent nuclear fuel (a type of nuclear waste). CASTORs are manufactured by GNS, a German provider of nuclear services.

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