International experts have warned about security shortcomings at French and Belgian nuclear plants, which make them vulnerable to attacks by terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda.
In a report commissioned by the Greenpeace anti-nuclear group, seven experts from France, Germany, Britain and the United States looked at various attack scenarios involving plants in both countries.
Noting the “very high level of threat to security in France and Europe,” the experts said nuclear power plants were “without a doubt, a risk.”
For security reasons, Greenpeace did not publish the full version of the report, except for authorities in France, Belgium and neighboring countries.
In a public summary, the experts, who are specialists in nuclear safety, proliferation, economics and radiation, stated that most of France’s reactors were built before the rise of modern-day threats from non-state terror groups such as 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,” the experts said.
Elsewhere in the report, the experts said an attack on such structures “could maximize 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 into the wider environment.
According to the report, the dangers were “even more pronounced in the case of spent fuel pools,” which were not encased in confinement buildings such as reactors, despite containing hundreds of tons of highly radioactive fuel.
France has the second-biggest fleet of nuclear plants in the world, after the United States. It has 58 reactors providing 75 percent of the country’s electricity. Belgium has two.
France also has a total of 63 pools containing highly radioactive fuel rods that have been removed from reactors after use.
The safety of France and Belgium’s nuclear plants has been in the spotlight for years. Belgian police probing the November 2015 acts of terror in Paris found 10 hours of video of the comings and goings of a senior Belgian nuclear official. A year before, a reactor close to the Belgian port city of Antwerp was shut down urgently after a leak in the turbine hall. In 2014, several mystery drone overflights were reported at various nuclear plants in France.
Yannick Rousselet, the head of Greenpeace France’s anti-nuclear campaign, said the need to “end the silence on the risks that hang over nuclear plants” was urgent. “(France’s state electricity supplier) EDF… cannot ignore the situation. It must take the security problem in hand by carrying out the work necessary to secure spent fuel pools,” Rousselet said.