Germany to restart nuclear waste transports
BERLIN - Germany said on Friday it was ready to restart shipments of nuclear waste for reprocessing following a two-year ban imposed after a scandal over radiation leaks from transport containers.
While the move was expected, environmental groups said it risked exposing the public to new safety risks and declared they would stage protests against the shipments that in the past have often turned into violent confrontations with police.
Nuclear plant bosses have warned they are running out of on-site temporary storage space, a situation they say could have forced the early shutdown of some facilities.
The Federal Agency for Protection Against Radiation (BfS) said in a statement it had approved eight shipments from reactors across Germany to France. The first could be as early as next month.
While Germanys centre-left government signed a pact with industry in June paving the way for a pull-out from nuclear energy by around the mid-2020s, waste shipments to French firm Cogemas La Hague plant can go ahead until 2005.
With no reprocessing facilities of its own, Germany expects by then to have completed construction of a permanent central storage site for the waste.
While most members of the junior coalition ecologist Greens party had resigned themselves to the fact that waste shipments would one day be restarted, environmental groups slammed the move. "Now we are seeing the real face of the atom deal," said Gerhard Timm of the BUND ecology group.
"Not only does this put rail passengers, local residents, rail workers and police at risk, it will also means new radioactive harm for humans and the environment of La Hague," he said of the shipments, made generally by rail.
A group of Greens politicians who opposed the nuclear deal as too gradual said they would organise action aimed at blocking the shipments. Some past protests have ended in pitched battles between anti-nuclear campaigners and police drafted in to make sure the shipments went ahead.
However, they have tended to be aimed at shipments of waste to controversial intermediate storage sites in Germany rather than out of the country for reprocessing. The first movement is likely to be from the south German Philippsburg plant, whose owner Energie Baden-Wuerttemberg said it could be ready to send a shipment in October.
Energie said it hoped a shipment from its Stade reactor could go ahead as soon as possible. The Environment Ministry said in a separate statement a condition for the reprocessing shipments to restart was that the plutonium won back from the reprocessing was recycled.
The previous government of Helmut Kohl imposed the ban on nuclear waste transport in May 1998 under pressure to act after it emerged that shipments had for years been sent through the country leaking radiation many times more than permissible levels.
Story by Holger Hansen
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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