Baton-wielding French police battled anti-nuclear protesters Wednesday as the last train carrying German nuclear waste treated in France set off on its journey home.
A mobile police canteen was set on fire by demonstrators and at least three people were hurt, two protesters and a riot officer.
Spooked by Japan’s Fukushima disaster, Germany has decided to phase out its use of nuclear power, and thus bring to an end the controversial practice of sending radioactive waste overland to France for reprocessing.
Anti-nuclear activists want France to follow suit and shut its reactors, an idea firmly dismissed by President Nicolas Sarkozy, and fierce protests were expected along the 700-kilometre (435-mile) route to Germany.
The shipment left a railway yard in the town of Valognes in Normandy, northwest France, more than an hour late after police played cat and mouse with hundreds of activists, firing teargas and making at least 16 arrests.
Protesters removed a rail and destroy electric junction boxes before the train left, environmental group Greenpeace and rail operator SNCF said.
“These are more like troublemaking vandals than the usual anti-nuclear protesters,” said prosecutor Eric Bouillard, noting that protesters had been found with two machetes in their possession.
As dense fog rolled in off the English Channel, mingling with the gas, police set up roadblocks to prevent demonstrators converging on nuclear giant Areva’s yard. A helicopter flew overhead and riot vans lined the roads.
Cows scattered in the fields as police charged groups of stone-throwing protesters, and a few kilometres outside Valognes a group briefly blocked a section of track with rocks and metal debris.
Watch video, courtesy of Al Jazeera, below: