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Police face protesters over a burning barricade in Normandy, France today. David Vincent/AP/Press Association Images

In pictures: French riot police clash with anti-nuclear group

Protesters set vehicles alight and damaged a section of rail while demonstrating against the transportation of nuclear material to northern Germany.

FRENCH RIOT police fired tear gas at anti-nuclear protesters in a Normandy field while activists damaged a railway and delayed the departure of a train carrying recycled uranium to Germany today.

The train finally left the depot at Valognes a bit later than scheduled, but is expected to meet protests and resistance all along its journey from a nuclear waste processing site on the English Channel to a storage site in northern Germany.

Protesters point to the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant after a tsunami earlier this year as an urgent reason to abandon atomic power.

“Stop This Radioactive Train,” read banners waved by protesters.

In pictures: French riot police clash with anti-nuclear group
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    A group of activists holding a banner reading "Stop this radioactive train" face-off against riot police. (AP Photo/David Vincent/PA Images)
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    Activists and riot police clash. (AP Photo/David Vincent/PA Images)
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    This morning's clashes between riot police and anti-nuclear protesters. (AP Photo/David Vincent/PA Images)
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    An activist clashes with riot police officers early today in Normandy as they try to block a train loaded with nuclear waste. (AP Photo/David Vincent/PA Images)
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    Riot police officers walk past a rail damaged by protesters at the tracks near Lieusant. (AP Photo/David Vincent/PA Images)
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    Railway workers repair a rail damaged by protesters at the tracks near Lieusant.(AP Photo/David Vincent/PA Images)
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    The train carrying 11 containers of nuclear waste, called CASTORs, leaves Valognes tpday. (AP Photo/David Vincent/PA Images)
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    Protesters stand by a burning barricade near Lieusant, Normandy earlier today.(AP Photo/David Vincent/PA Images)


Some 300 demonstrators clashed with police today in fields in the village of Lieusaint, outside Valognes, the site of the rail depot from where the train loaded with the uranium treated by French nuclear company Areva departed.

Vehicles were set aflame, and riot police responded with volleys of tear gas. It was not immediately clear if there were injuries.

Separately, someone deliberately damaged a section of train track, said Najim Chiabri of the SNCF national rail authority.

“They used a special tool to elevate the rail and they have put ballast there to stop the rail getting back into its usual position, so it creates a bump of about 2 to 4 inches,” he said. He said they would use stones to stabilise the track and allow the train to pass.

Activists wore scarves on their noses and mouths to protect against the tear gas fumes. Riot police walked amid rail tracks, patrolling for trouble makers.

State-run Areva treats spent nuclear fuel from other nations, to the ire of those who contend such shipments are too dangerous for rail, sea or road.


Areva spokesman Julien Duperray said, “We respect every opinion on nuclear energy. What we do not respect and what we do condemn is the fact that some people express their opinion by, let’s say, some violent actions, violent means.”

Duperray said the train was expected in Gorleben, Germany, in “about three days.”

In Germany, police are preparing a big security operation to protect the nuclear waste shipment, as protests are expected, despite a decision to speed up the country’s exit from nuclear energy.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government decided after Japan’s nuclear disaster this year to shut all Germany’s nuclear plants by 2022. But officials haven’t resolved where waste should be stored permanently — and activists argue the Gorleben site is unsafe.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, however, reiterated his commitment to nuclear power in a speech Tuesday and said the government should continue to invest in it. France is more reliant on nuclear power than any other country, with the majority of its electricity coming from atomic reactors.

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