Greenpeace activists break into French nuclear plant

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Activists from environmental group Greenpeace managed to sneak into a nuclear power plant near Paris Monday in a move they said highlighted the dangers posed by France's reliance on atomic energy.

Police confirmed the intrusion and said activists had tried to break into two other nuclear sites in the south of France.

French energy giant EDF, which runs the nuclear plants that France relies on for 75 percent of its energy, sought to play down the incident, saying the activists at the plant near Paris had been detected but a decision made not to immediately intercept them.

EDF said activists had unfurled banners at two other sites but did not specify whether they had managed to enter the nuclear plants.

In a statement, Greenpeace said some members had entered the nuclear site at Nogent-sur-Seine, 95 kilometres (60 miles) southeast of Paris, to "spread the message that there is no such thing as safe nuclear power."

"A group of militants managed to climb on to the dome of one of the reactors, where they unfurled a banner saying 'Safe Nuclear Power Doesn't Exist'," said Greenpeace spokesman Axel Renaudin.

"The aim is to show the vulnerability of French nuclear installations, and how easy it is to get to the heart of a reactor," said Sophia Majnoni, a Greenpeace nuclear expert.

EDF insisted it had been aware of the intrusion from the start.

The activists "were immediately detected by the security system and were permanently followed on the site, without a decision being made to make use of force," the company said in a statement.

It said seven to nine people had been "calmly apprehended" by the French gendarmerie, a branch of the armed forces that protects nuclear sites.

Ladders and banners were also found near a nuclear power station in Blaye in southwestern France and at a nuclear research centre in Cadarache in the southeast, the gendarmerie told AFP.

EDF said banners had also been deployed at nuclear power plants in Chinon in central France and at Blayais in southwestern France, but "immediately removed." The company did not say whether activists had managed to enter those sites.

Henri Guaino, an advisor to President Nicolas Sarkozy, said the activists' move was "irresponsible" but raised questions about security at nuclear plants.

"It was irresponsible on their part," he told BFMTV. "But this does make one think about the security of access to nuclear power plants. Conclusions must be drawn from this."

The incident comes as some in France have begun to question the country's long-held support for nuclear energy.

France, the world's most nuclear-dependent country, operates 58 reactors and has been a leading international proponent of atomic energy.

But the country's reliance on nuclear energy has been increasingly called into question since the Fukushima disaster in Japan, which prompted Germany to announce plans to shut all of its reactors by the end of 2022.

Ahead of a presidential election next year, Socialist candidate Francois Hollande has agreed a deal with the country's Greens to push to reduce France's reliance on nuclear energy to 50 percent by shutting down 24 nuclear reactors by 2025.

EDF and Greenpeace have a long history of confrontation, and last month a French court fined the company 1.5 million euros ($2 million) after it hired a private security firm to hack the computer of the group's former head of campaigns in France.

Greenpeace's action came as UN climate talks entered their second week in South Africa.

Near the Durban conference site six Greenpeace campaigners were arrested as they tried to hang a banner reading "Listen to the People, not the Polluters" at a hotel where a "Global Business Day," hosted by business organisations, was taking place.


© 2011 AFP

1 Comment To This Article

  • Tim posted:

    on 7th December 2011, 19:12:38 - Reply

    Although I found your article about Greenpeace easy to read and informative in a controlled, maybe even prompted, manner, with the repetition of certain points which seem to diffuse the Greenpeace protest effort, and all, I beg to differ with you concerning your reference in it to the "gendarmerie as a branch of the French armed forces." Not that it really matters, but as I understand it, gendarmerie members may have served in a branch of the military and gone through a rigorous process of selection, before being admitted into to the gendarmerie, but they are still considered police and, as such, openly and effectively serve the French public, kind of like the Sheriffs' department in the US but better trained and disciplined.

    The gendarmerie may be under the jurisdiction of the French Ministry of Defence, but it is considered and functions like a branch of the police. Also, although they cooperate with the regular and municipal police in their service to the public, they normally operate in different geographical zones. These zones are referred to as rural, which, of course, is where most, if not all nuclear plants are located. Also, they may "protect nuclear plants" as you suggest, but do keep in mind that looking after nuclear plant security, like with looking after a Ma and Pa French bakery or a gas station, is only a small part of the job a "gendarme" does, and shouldn't, by any means, be confused with the job of privately hired nuclear plant site or other grocery store, etc., type security guards.

    May I add that, in my opinion, if the EDF (the French electric company which operates all nuclear plants in France) would intentionally let Greenpeace protesters break into the nuclear plant without knowing who they were or what they were doing, I would dispose of my EDF stock options and quickly join Greenpeace, if for no other reason than I would not be able to trust the EDF to make rational decisions relating to the safe operation and keeping of a nuclear plant, and I wouldn't want to be holding EDF stock when their plants start to pop as result of such blatant and dangerous oversight.

    Gosh, I wonder why the EDF didn't invite the Greenpeace protesters for tea and cupcakes, while they were at it. Barf!