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Greenpeace Says Pilot Shows Security Weakness at EDF Reactor

May 02, 2012

Greenpeace said one of its activists landed inside a French nuclear plant using a powered paraglider to highlight the risk of an aerial attack, four days before an election in which the two candidates disagree on atomic policy.

The incursion into Electricite de France SA’s Bugey site “demonstrates the vulnerability of nuclear installations to a threat of an air attack,” Greenpeace said today in a statement. The pilot threw a smoke bomb onto one of the reactors, it said.

The action comes before the only televised debate later today between President Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande, the Socialist frontrunner in presidential elections. Sarkozy has said he plans to increase investment in atomic energy, while his rival has pledged to reduce French dependence on nuclear power. The two candidates are campaigning for a May 6 runoff vote.

Greenpeace and EDF have been at odds for years over French power, more than three-quarters of which is nuclear. Safety has received more scrutiny after Japan’s Fukushima atomic disaster.

“Safety at the installation was never called into question,” Dominique Miniere, director of French nuclear production, told reporters today. “What is clear is that safety measures put in place at the end of 2011 allowed the detection and immediate arrest of the intruder. The whole thing was over in less than 10 minutes.”

Pilot Caught

Greenpeace campaigners broke into two EDF nuclear plants in France last year to demonstrate security lapses. That led the government to order an overhaul at EDF’s 19 power-generating plants in France. The campaigners’ breaches were their most spectacular, after years of hopping fences, climbing up reactor ladders and unfurling anti-nuclear banners from rooftops.

The pilot was caught minutes after nearly crash-landing, Miniere said. EDF also confirmed reports that a man broke into the Civaux plant today by passing through a truck entrance and then hiding near a security gate. He was found by police after being chased by security guards, according to a spokesman.

The intrusions came after EDF thwarted two attempts last month by Greenpeace activists at two plants in northern France.

No-fly zones are designated 10 kilometers (6 miles) around and 1 kilometer above all of EDF’s atomic plants, Miniere said. They are protected by the military and have been breached at least 10 times in recent years by off course planes that were later intercepted by the airforce.

The Bugey plant, near Lyon in the Rhone River valley, has four 900-megawatt reactors and is protected by police and two fences running around the perimeter, EDF’s website says.

Boost Security

The company will spend an extra 400 million euros ($526 million) to boost security with detector fences and more cameras at all of its plants in the next 3 to 4 years, Miniere said. That’s on top of 10s of millions of euros being spent each year on measures such as tasers, barricades and guard dogs, he said.

Greenpeace has called on the nuclear safety watchdog to include threats of air crashes in stress tests on reactors after the Fukushima disaster in March 2011. The regulator refused, saying it was responsible for safety at the sites, not security.

“EDF is able to deal with an airplane crash into a reactor,” Miniere said. The consequences would be the same as other scenarios such as core meltdowns, for which safety is being bolstered, he said.

Greenpeace also made public footage from a flight it said was carried out in November over Areva SA (AREVA)’s La Hague nuclear reprocessing site.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tara Patel in Paris at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Will Kennedy at

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