Greenpeace breaches French nuclear plant security

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Greenpeace said Monday it had exposed the "vulnerability" of French nuclear sites after its activists broke into and reached the heart of an atomic plant near Paris before being arrested.

The dawn raid saw nine activists sneak past security at the Nogent-sur-Seine plant, 95 kilometres (60 miles) southeast of Paris, and unfurl a banner on one of its domes reading: "Safe Nuclear Power Doesn't Exist."

"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.

"In about 15 minutes the activists reached the heart of the plant, where the nuclear core and nuclear fuel are," she told journalists near the plant.

French authorities confirmed the intrusion, said that the nine had been detained and a thorough search was being conducted of all installations after Greenpeace said its activists had entered other sites and remained present.

"We at the moment have people who are in a nuclear site and have not been located," Greenpeace spokeswoman Adelaide Colin said.

French energy firm EDF, which runs the nuclear plants that France relies on for 75 percent of its energy, said there were no signs that activists had managed to infiltrate other installations.

"There are no traces of intrusion in EDF's other nuclear stations," it added.

EDF sought to downplay the incident, insisting 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.

Authorities insisted the incident had posed no risk.

"At no point was there a threat to the integrity of nuclear installations," interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told AFP.

"We are proceeding with an extensive search of all nuclear plants and installations," he said.

Authorities said attempts had also been made to break into nuclear power plants in Blayais in southwestern France and Chinon in central France, as well as a nuclear research centre in Cadarache in the southeast.

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."

Green Party leader Cecile Duflot thanked the activists for carrying out a "free audit" of security at French nuclear facilities.

The activists "proved the weaknesses of our (nuclear) stations," she said in a statement, adding: "Terrorist risks must finally be taken seriously by nuclear authorities and the government."

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 power 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

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