France convicts group for Fessenheim nuclear protest

image copyrightAFP
image captionGreenpeace activists Peter Wentt (L), Jean-Michel Vougere (C) and Eddy Varin (R) in court in Colmar

A French court has handed down two-month suspended jail sentences to 55 anti-nuclear activists who broke into an atomic power station.

Only three of the Greenpeace activists appeared in court in the town of Colmar, near the Fessenheim power plant which was targeted in March.

The group, from some 20 countries but mostly German, were found guilty of trespass. Fessenheim is near Germany.

It is France's oldest nuclear plant and is due to close in 2016.

The protesters broke into the plant in a dawn raid on 18 March, seeking to prove it was vulnerable to attack, and about 20 of them managed to scale a dome.

State-run power firm EDF, which runs the plant, said the safety of the plant had not been compromised but the protest resulted in the government ordering stronger security at the country's 58 nuclear reactors.

Three in court

The activists included 21 Germans, seven Italians and others from France, Turkey, Austria, Hungary, Australia and Israel as well as several other nations.

Three defendants who turned up in court were named by AFP news agency as Greenpeace activists Peter Wentt, Jean-Michel Vougere and Eddy Varin.

image copyrightAFP
image copyrightReuters
image captionA file photo of Fessenheim nuclear power plant

Earlier, Mr Vougere and and Varin joined supporters outside the court to hold up a Greenpeace banner which read "We disobey for the future. Nuclear or transition - you have to choose!"

At issue is whether the group smashed a metal security gate with their lorry to enter the plant or simply broke a lock to get in, as they argue.

French nuclear industry

•Supplies 75% of electricity

•Exports both electricity and nuclear technology

•Building its first Generation III reactor

•Country has 58 nuclear reactors operated by Electricite de France (EDF)

Activists convicted of similar break-ins at French plants have received six-month suspended prison sentences in the past, AFP news agency notes.

Activists from countries outside the Schengen visa-free travel zone also face a travel ban in France if convicted.

During the protest, a giant banner was unfurled next to the nearby Rhine canal, which read "Future Is Renewable, Stop Nuclear".

President Francois Hollande's Socialist party has promised to cut reliance on nuclear energy from more than 75% to 50% by shutting Fessenheim (commissioned in 1977) and 23 other reactors by 2025.

Fessenheim is seen as particularly vulnerable to seismic activity and flooding.

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