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Protest over nuclear waste shipment

Environmental activists have unfurled banners near train stations and on railway overpasses to protest against a shipment of 123 tons of recycled nuclear waste from France to Germany.

State-controlled French nuclear engineering company Areva said the shipment by rail to a German storage site in the north-eastern town of Goerleben was "completely normal" - and the 11th of its kind.

But Greenpeace officials, including its executive director Kumi Naidoo, said the shipment was "the most radioactive in history" and equalled 11 times the radioactivity of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster - a claim denied by Areva.

"The reference to Chernobyl is scandalous," said Areva chief Anne Lauvergeon on France-Info radio. The waste was about the same amount as in the other 10 shipments, she said, while other Areva officials said it was smaller than some.

The shipment rolled out of a railway station in the French town of Valognes and was due to head across northern France and then into Germany, before arriving in Goerleben on Saturday.

About 40 Greenpeace protesters unfurled banners near the station and at nearby overpasses as the train prepared to depart.

Areva spokesman Christophe Neugnot said the security measures, following international regulations, involved sealing the solid waste in special glass containers that were encased in 40cm thick steel containers. He said they were "rolling fortresses".

Protesters were planning to deploy along every station the train was to pass through, and thousands of activists were getting ready in Germany, said Yannick Rousselet of Greenpeace France.

A large demonstration is planned for Saturday in Dannenberg, where the waste containers are to be loaded on to trucks for the final stretch of their journey.

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