More Nuke Train Shipments

Trains carrying spent atomic fuel from three German power plants chugged toward France Tuesday amid protests by several hundred anti-nuclear demonstrators who threatened to disrupt the shipments.

A container of waste left Grafenrheinfeld plant in the southern state of Bavaria early Tuesday. Later in the day, containers also departed from power plants at Philippsburg in Baden-Wuerttemberg state and from Biblis in Hesse.

Police in Philippsburg said some 400 demonstrators gathered outside the plant, which was cordoned off by some 2,000 officers. At least 13 people were arrested, including seven members of the environmentalist group Greenpeace, police said.

Police said they also intercepted a handful of protesters as they approached the rails at Biblis. And a local anti-nuclear group said up to 200 people gathered to protest the latest shipment at Gochsheim, where the container from Grafenrheinfeld was transferred to a train from a truck.

The protests were part of an ongoing standoff between authorities and demonstrators who say nuclear fuel shipments are unsafe.

Germany sends spent nuclear fuel from its power plants to France for reprocessing under contracts that oblige it to take back the resultant waste. The transports were halted three years ago after radiation was found to be leaking from the containers.

Protesters say the shipments are still dangerous. They aim to make the fuel transports so expensive that the government and power companies will be forced to halt them.

Less than two weeks ago, massive demonstrations were partly successful at halting a shipment of reprocessed waste returning from France to a disputed storage site in northern Germany. Four activists defied a huge police operation by attaching themselves to the track with an elaborate system of pipes and chains, holding up the shipment for 18 hours. Police had to clear hundreds more from sit-down protests.

This time around, rail wagons carrying a total of five containers of spent fuel were to be coupled together at Woerth, on Germany's western border. They are to continue across France to reach a reprocessing plant at La Hague in Normandy early Wednesday.

In Paris, French Greens party spokeswoman Maryse Arditi called for the shipment to be halted, adding that the intended route — through the outskirts of Paris in the middle of the night — could pose "extremely grave" risks.

To prevent delays from recurring, Baden-Wuerttemberg state police banned sit-down protests on the tracks Monday, saying offenders would be fined $70 and charged a "carry-away fee" of up to $57.

Still, on Monday night, 13 Greenpeace activists were arrested after chaining themselves to the wagon due to carry the waste from Grafenrheinfeld. The group said another 15 of its members occupied a bridge early Tuesday near the town of Schweinfurt, under which the same train is due to travel.

The German government "knows perfectly well that reprocessing in France is systematcally contaminating the environment," complained Veit Buerger, a spokesman for Greenpeace.

The police presence to protect Tuesday's transport was costing the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg $917,000, the state interior ministry said.

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