Nuclear death train too fast?

Diet Simon 10.11.2004 11:21 Themen: Atom
The state attorney in Nancy is investigating whether the nuclear waste train that killed an activist chained to the track was going too fast. It’s ordered the locomotive's “black box”, the recorder of its operation, to be studied. Earlier state attorney Michel Senthille in the eastern French town had stated that the train was running at 98 kilometres an hour round a curve.
The train weighed 2,200 tonnes and was 398 metres long. At that speed, it would have needed 800 metres to stop. Sébastien Briat, a 21-year-old student, was run over shortly after the train took a curve, with the driver able to see only 200 metres ahead. Three others with him were injured.

The driver had been warned by police motorcyclists riding ahead on a dirt road but could not stop in time.

The train was taking 12 Castor caskets of highly radioactive German nuclear waste from power stations back to Germany after reprocessing at a French plutonium factory at La Hague in Normandy, northern France.

The reprocessing company, Cogema, said these were the remnants of 600 tonnes of uranium from which power was produced for 25 million Germans for a year.

After a journey of 60 hours by rail and truck, stopped several times by protesters on the rails and roads, the consignment arrived in a storage hall near the picturesque north German village of Gorleben at 9.15 am Tuesday morning.

The rail journey was 1,000 kilometres through Germany, with activists along the way reporting that it was going much too fast.

The trucks needed more that two hours for the last 20 kilometres by rural roads from the railhead to the storage compound. Police had to clear thousands of sitting demonstrators and dozens of tractors from village roads, sometimes using batons.

For the transport near Gorleben alone, 10,100 police were assigned, 2,400 fewer than for the same kind of transport last year; throughout Germany it was 15,710. 39 helicopters were used.

This was the eighth transport to Gorleben since the storage hall opened for business in 1995. It now contains 56 Castors. Its total capacity is 420.

Authorities put the total cost of the police operation at around 21 million euros (25.7 million last year) in Lower Saxony state alone – utter insanity when governments are cash-strapped and all kinds of services to the public are having to be cut back.

The commander of the police operation, Friedrich Niehörster, said there were more protests than last year. Apparently under the impression of Briat’s death there had been “a large number of peaceful demonstrators and only small groups ready for violence”. The Lower Saxony government described the protests as “very peaceful”. Twelve policemen were reported injured.

The Gorleben activists say they’re rethinking their forms of action because of the death. They say a fundamental principle in resisting the Castor transports had always been that no one should get hurt. (Last year the activists’ own medics reported that police had “brutally” and indiscriminately injured 85 protesters, some of them seriously.)

Sébastien Briat is being buried today, Wednesday 10 November, in Bar-le-Duc, Lorraine. Mourners are meeting at 2.30 pm in front of Bar-le-Duc station to proceed to the burial service taking place at 3 p.m.

Briat’s family has asked for a simple service and that n o signs of allegiance to any political organisation. Condolences to the family can be sent to Réseau "Sortir du nucléaire", 9 rue Dumenge, F-69317 Lyon Cedex 04, fax 0033-4 72 07 70 04, email for forwarding.

The French anti-nuclear network, "Sortir du Nucléaire", has called for vigils at all French railway stations on Wednesday.

There will also be vigils and demonstrations at various German locations. Police were pretty rough with some of those that happened spontaneously as soon as news of Briat’s death arrived. A flier with a picture of Sébastien is available at

Meanwhile in Düsseldorf, Germany, police experts from various federal states on Wednesday are discussing planned Castor transports from Dresden in east Germany to a storage hall at Ahaus, similar to the one in Gorleben.

Also at the talks are representatives of the transport company and the shut-down research reactor at Rossendorf whose 951 spent fuel roads in 18 Castors are to be trucked more than 600 kms across Germany.

Saxony state, where the reactor is situated, is pressing for the transports to take place still this year, North-Rhine Westphalia, where Ahaus is, is resisting, saying in the winter weather now beginning it would be irresponsible to subject police personnel to the extra dangers. The transport licence runs out at the end of the year.

"There won’t be a Castor transport [to Ahaus] this year,” said NRW interior minister, Fritz Behrens.

Several anti-nuclear groups in the heavily nuclearised region where Ahaus lies have expressed disappointment at the plans going ahead. No one can understand, they say, why transports have to be carried out regardless although they create new dangers and the disposal of waste remains just as unsure. They demanded that in view of Briat’s death, the transport preparations be broken off immediately.

The trial of two people who chained themselves fast to stop a Castor train a year ago in Heilbronn county, will not take place on Wednesday as scheduled. Local activists say the proceedings have been cancelled. But another similar trial is taking place tomorrow.
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* 10.11.2004 - 18:41
Although all the circumstances of Sébastian Briard’s death are not yet clear, writes the French daily, "Libération", it is regarded as certain that the train was running too fast.

Other contributing factors were that Briand (Libération’s spelling) stood after a curve and the surveillance helicopter that was to accompany the train for the entire trip to be able to report obstacles in time, just then flew off to refuel.

The driver was permitted by “MA 100” to run at up to 100 km/h, said the paper, but he had not been given a “drive with care” instruction.

Eyewitnesses report that because Briard panicked as the train approached, he was unable to free himself from the chain he intended to attach to the rails.

"Libération" quotes the Sud Rail railway workers’ union as saying that because experience showed such a transport of dangerous cargo was likely to be blocked by anti-nuclear activists, the train would have had to be able to stop at any obstacle turning up.

A union spokesman said the Castor transport should have been allowed to travel at “maximum 20 or 30 km/h”, especially in the very curvy stretch in Lorraine, to be able to react to anything unexpected.

Gilbert Poirot of "Sortir du nucléaire" told the German newspaper “taz” that the train was running at almost 100 kph to try to make up a delay.

According to the taz, the French Greens demand an immediate end of the transports between La Hague and Gorleben.

What if it had been a truck?

x 10.11.2004 - 22:12
Gilbert Poirot, an anti-nuclear activist from Alsace, went to the place where Sébastien was killed to check it out. He told Libération:

"At reduced speed the train would certainly have been able to stop in time at such a place. Contrary to what the state attorney said, the curve at this place is relatively open and the range of vision more than 200 metres. … Since there have been these kinds of actions we know that the trains make up the time they’ve lost by being held up by a blockade.”

On Sunday the train was stopped for two hours by two demonstrators who chained themselves to the track at Laneuveville-Devant-Nancy ( It resumed its run shortly after 1.30 pm and ran over Sébastien Briard shortly after 2.30 pm 40 km from Avricourt station.

Could it have stopped? Or did it run too fast to make up the time lost? asks the newspaper. “Other questions arise. According to our information the train had an ‘MA-100’ permit allowing a maximum of 100 kph. Accordingly, the train was running at a permitted speed. But still much too fast, insists the trade union. ‘Sud Rail’".

The paper says there are considerable contradictions, not only about the data but also among government agencies and the SNCF, the state-owned railways. They knew, says the paper, that in the entire Alsace-Lorraine area there was a great risk of encountering anti-nuclear activists. Media releases about planned actions were circulating everywhere. Despite this, says the paper, no special measures were taken.

“And what if the obstacle had been a truck and not a human being?” asks Malvaux.

But whose task was it to give the train driver the order to run “at a cautious speed”? Everyone was passing the ball to everyone else yesterday, said the paper.

“It is the ministry and Cogema who supervise such transports, we only carry them out,” declared the SNCF. Cogema stated: "Cogema Logistics is responsible for the train only until it departs from the station of Valogne. Security is the responsibility of the CRS (riot police) and officials of the defence ministry in Paris-Bercy."

For the latter, Didier Lallemand stated to Libération, "to know nothing about proceeding with ‘cautious speed’. I only issue the authorisation for the transport. Together with the interior minister I’m responsible for the protection regulations for nuclear materials being obeyed. I don’t give orders to SNCF on how to run the train." When contacted by Libération the transport ministry, which is in charge of the railways, had no answer ready by yesterday.

On secrecy regulations the paper wrote: “A decree from August 2003 provides a prison term of five years without parole for anyone breaching the secrecy of ‘Protection and control measures for nuclear materials’. According to the government, Sunday’s train did no fall under those provisions.”

But at "Sortir du nucléaire" they criticise a contradictory consequence: "We used to be able to publish on our internet page time schedules, type of load and security measures. That is now banned. Only on Sunday information about the route got through to us from German internet pages. Could that be spawning a greater tendency to improvise actions?”


x 14.11.2004 - 12:51
The German police trade union ( was sharply critical of blockade actions. It said those who stepped on to the rails risked their lives and were responsible for accidents with grave consequences. The death of the young Frenchman “is the fault of fanatical opponents of atomic power”, the union said.