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October 11, 2017

Greenpeace report: French, Belgian N-plants vulnerable to attack


October 11, 2017

PARIS: International experts warned on Tuesday about security shortcomings at French and Belgian nuclear plants that make them vulnerable to attack, in a report commissioned by the Greenpeace group.

France has the second-biggest fleet of nuclear plants in the world, after the United States, with 58 reactors providing 75 percent of the country’s electricity. Belgium has two.

The seven experts from France, Germany, Britain and the US -- specialists in nuclear safety, proliferation, economics and radiation -- looked at various attack scenarios involving plants in both countries, some of which date back over three decades.

Noting the "very high level of threat to security in France and Europe" they said nuclear power plants were "without a doubt, a risk".

For security reasons, anti-nuclear group Greenpeace did not publish the full version of the report, which it said it would share with authorities in France, Belgium and neighbouring countries.

In a public summary, the experts noted that most of France’s reactors were built before the rise of modern-day threats from non-state terror groups such as Islamic State or Al-Qaeda. "For these historical reasons, reinforcement against heavy attacks on civil engineering works and protection systems for nuclear safety was not -- or only marginally -- incorporated into the design of these facilities," they said.

The dangers were "even more pronounced in the case of spent fuel pools", which were not encased in confinement buildings like reactors, despite containing hundreds of tonnes of highly radioactive fuel.

France has a total of 63 pools containing highly radioactive fuel rods that have been removed from reactors after their use. The report said an attack on such a structure "could maximise the accident scenario in which fuel is uncovered, heats to the point of fusion and a significant fraction of its radioactivity is released," into the building and -- given the building’s lack of containment -- into the wider environment.

The safety of France and Belgium’s nuclear plants has been in the spotlight for years. Belgian police investigating the November 2015 Paris terror attacks found 10 hours of video of the comings and goings of a senior Belgian nuclear official. A year previously, the Doel 4 reactor, close to the Belgian port city of Antwerp, was shut down urgently after a leak in the turbine hall, caused by tampering.

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