Trainstopping: French anti-nuclear activists explore whether targeted direct action, including the deliberate use of the court system to launch political challenges, can open up a space for democratic participation

(by Graeme Hayes, Marie Curie research fellow at the CRAPE research centre, Rennes)

On 5 November last, a train carrying vitrified nuclear waste left Valognes, in northern France, heading for Gorleben, in Germany. A little after half past three in the afternoon, as the train drew into Caen station, a young woman alerted the driver to the presence of half a dozen people on the line. As the engine drew to a halt, five of the six – all belonging to a small affinity group named GANVA, or non-violent anti-nuclear activist group – chained themselves to the track and to each other. This was the first blockage in a journey constantly disrupted by anti-nuclear activists, especially in Germany. In Caen, it took the police three and half hours to remove the activists from the track, and enable the shipment to continue a journey that eventually took 91 hours, mobilised 20,000 police, and cost a reported 50 million euros. These actions clearly caused great embarrassment to the French and German governments, and attracted global media attention. But is that all they achieved? Do actions such as this simply testify to the impotence of citizens when faced with the nuclear prerogatives of states, or is there a possibility here for something more positive, more democratic to emerge? (for full text, see here)

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