German Nuclear Shipments Set to Resume

BERLIN, Germany, January 31, 2000 (ENS) - Germany's radiation protection agency has authorised the first transports of spent nuclear fuel since a national ban was imposed in 1998. The agency said last week that two-year licences for domestic transports will be awarded to three power stations that will allow them to begin transporting spent nuclear fuel to storage facilities starting in August.

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April 1994, Ahauser station. The red railcars are specialized nuclear transport Castor containers carrying spent fuel from the shut down North-Rhine/Westphalian thorium high-temperature reactor Hamm Uentrop. (Photo courtesy No Castor Campaign)

The decision follows completion of a safety programme launched after radioactive contamination was found on the surface of rail transport containers. When the contamination first came to light, Germany, France and Switzerland all banned further transports. Safety assessments were launched in all three countries, plus a collaborative one with the UK authorities.

Whereas France and Switzerland have both resumed nuclear transports, in Germany the issue became embroiled in the acrimonious debate over phasing out nuclear power.

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German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin (Photo courtesy Government of Germany)
The decision to authorise transports comes just days before a new round of phase-out talks is due to begin this week. Environment minister Jürgen Trittin last week issued a renewed appeal to the nuclear industry not to prevent agreement on phase-out.

Meanwhile, environmental NGOs have denounced the decision as playing into the hands of the nuclear industry. Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND) said it could "only delay a solution to the problem of nuclear waste." Nabu called the decision "scandalous" and expressed "severe doubts" about the safety of transports.

The radiation agency has emphasised the increased security of transports now in place. It has promised tighter controls, with police and local government authorities responsible for reporting any problems.

Internationally-agreed radiation limits have been guaranteed and granting of licences will now be subject to more rules.

German protests of nuclear waste rail shipments have drawn thousands of people. In March of 1997, 30,000 police officers guarded the route taken by a train carrying six containers of nuclear waste Walheim in southwest Germany bound for a nuclear waste storage facility in Luechow Dannenberg in the the north central part of the county. Many thousands of people demonstrated along the route, but the shipment arrived at its destination. Four hundred people were arrested, and 300 to 400 protesters were injured, 30 of them severely.

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{Published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London. Email: envdaily@ends.co.uk}