Photographers' Blog

Following a nuclear train

By Fabrizio Bensch

126 hours from La Hague to Gorleben; the longest ever nuclear waste transport from Germany to France

This is a retrospective on the past 10 years, during which I have covered the nuclear waste transportation from France to Germany many times. The German nuclear waste from power plants is transported in Castor (Cask for Storage and Transport of Radioactive material) containers by train to the northern German interim storage facility of Gorleben.

As the train came closer to its final destination, I would end up with only a few hours sleep, mile-long marches on foot through forests and fields and never-ending police checkpoints. But in the end each castor transport reached its intended destination.

Nuclear waste from German nuclear power plants was reprocessed at the French plant at La Hague. The train used to transport it was protected in Germany by up to 20,000 policemen. Each transportation was different, but the pictures each year were very similar. There were blockades on the railway tracks, activists chaining themselves to the tracks, peaceful and violent protests along the route and the waiting patiently for hours for the train to move further along.

But this year the protest was very violent. Thousands of activists blocked the transport route between Danneberg and Gorleben and they were displaced by police using water cannons. Local farmers constructed a concrete pyramid, which stood on the tracks. Four of them chained themselves together with a sophisticated mechanism. Specialist police tried for hours to open the mechanism and to clear the railway tracks but after more than 10 hours they gave up. The activists had won.

Tour de France 2011 – A long way to Paris

This year’s riders of the Tour de France covered 3430.5 km (2131.6 miles), divided into 21 stages, according to the Tour’s official website.

What you may not know is that the Reuters pictures team covering 2011′s most-watched sporting event managed to tally up some 10,000 km (6213 miles).

I was excited to cover the race but aware that despite careful planning, any big job can have its moments of near disaster. After meeting at the Reuters office in Paris with team leader (and Italy chief) photographer Stefano Rellandini and French photographer Pascal Rossignol we checked all our equipment, made sure our laptops were working, that our passwords were valid and that Mifi was setup. We picked up our local phones and configured wireless transmission devices from cameras. One thing’s for sure — the planning stage is essential on a big job like this, and a good team spirit never hurts either.