FLAMANVILLE, Normandy, France - June 1 - A Greenpeace protester today took off in a powered parachute, a "pego-jet", within the 3km air exclusion zone around the Flamanville nuclear plant in Normandy, France. The activist was protesting plans by Electricite de France (EDF) to build a large European Pressurized Water Reactor (EPR) at the site; he came within 300m of the two reactors currently operating at the site before landing close to the plant.
After the protest, a massive security alert was triggered at the site. Military police and other security personnel searched for several hours inside the site. A military helicopter with sniper arrived two hours later to circle the areas around the plant and Cherbourg, but the activist had left the area much earlier.
The protest follows revelations in a leaked internal document from Electricite de France (EDF) two weeks ago that the new EPR could not withstand the impact of a large commercial passenger aircraft from either a deliberate act of terrorism or accident. EDF's existing 58 reactors are also unable to withstand large aircraft impact (1). EDF also stated in the leaked document that they are unable to prepare for all events and that ultimately security is the responsibility of the State.
"EDF cannot deny their responsibility as they owned almost wholly by the French Government - they are the State. They have built an enormous nuclear industry with no serious consideration of the risks. It is clear that the EPR being planned by EDF, like all nuclear plants, is vulnerable to an attack by a hijacked commercial aircraft - and the reality is that operators would have as little as five minutes to respond," said Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace International.
The EDF document (2) relates to the projected performance of the AREVA designed Generation III European Pressurized Reactor, the first of which is being built at Olkiluoto in Finland with a second planned for a site at Flammanville, Normandy, France. EDF has also submitted proposals to the UK Government to build ten such reactors, and is seeking to export the design to China, India and the United States.
Nuclear engineering consultancy Large & Associates, in a Greenpeace commissioned study, assessed the secret EDF document and concluded that it includes seriously flawed assumptions about whether the reactor could withstand a potential terrorist attack using hijacked commercial aircraft. These assumptions include the following:
- The impact of a 250 tonne commercial jet aircraft is considered to be in the same range as a military aircraft (2-5 tonnes) in terms of the energy of impact, despite the greater induced shock from the much greater physical weight;
- Up to 100 tonnes of aviation fuel from a commercial aircraft would burn within two minutes, which is both unjustified and unproven. It also ignores the possibility of fuel vapour forming within the reactor structures, the explosion of which could severely damage the shield and the reactor within; and
- Terrorists would have insufficient skills to pilot an aircraft onto the intended target, despite the deadly accuracy of the 9/11 attacks having proven how well trained and highly skilled they can become.
The EDF document also discounts a serious risk of radioactive release from the reactor, whilst also failing to consider potential radioactivity released from damage to spent fuel rods and waste processing and storage sources on site.
"EDF's nuclear program is at high risk - they have already created too many vulnerable targets with no effective defence. France does not need one more nuclear target in the large shape of the EPR - it needs to follow the lead of Spain and Germany," said Yannick Rousselet of Greenpeace France. "The EPR is promoted as the future for nuclear power but in reality it is the same dangerous unacceptable technology that has plagued us for decades. Whatever the terrorist threat and intended targets unlike nuclear power, a wind turbine or solar panel is not on the list."
Notes to Editor
1 - The leaked EDF document is a 2003 report from a senior EDF official, Bruno Lescoeur, to the French nuclear safety regulator, IRSN. The Greenpeace commissioned study "Assessment of the operational risks and hazards of the EPR when subject to aircraft crash (Demarche de dimensionnement des ouvrages EPR vis-à-vis du risque lie aux chutes d'avions civils), Large & Associates, May 18th 2006, for Greenpeace International. Both documents are available at www.greenpeace.org/france
A video scenario of the vulnerability of a nuclear reactor to terrorist attack is available at: http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/fridaythe13th/
2 - The leaked document was published in full two weeks ago by politicians, Greenpeace and other environmental organisations in France, to protest the arrest of an activist from the French Nuclear Phase-out network (Sortir du Nucleaire), who was accused of violation of France's nuclear Secret Defence by having a copy of the EDF document. The activist, Stéphane Lhomme, was interrogated for over 14 hours after ten anti-terrorist police and others raided his home in Paris, removing documents, computers and phones. Under a French government Arête from 2003, 'Secret Defence', the French state has sought to prevent details on nuclear safety and security from being disclosed. Greenpeace documentation of the vulnerability of plutonium transport's in France have been challenged by the French state in recent years ( www.stop-plutonium.org )