Greenpeace stunt highlights gaps in French nuclear safety

Greenpeace stunt highlights gaps in French nuclear safety

By Luke Vargas   
Published
A Superman drone remotely controlled by Greenpeace activists crashes into a spent fuel storage building at a nuclear power plant in Bugey, France. July 3, 2018. Credit: Nicolas Chauveau / Greenpeace
A Superman drone remotely controlled by Greenpeace activists crashes into a spent fuel storage building at a nuclear power plant in Bugey, France. July 3, 2018. Credit: Nicolas Chauveau / Greenpeace After crossing the Rhone river, Superman piloted its way between reactors to finally crash on the wall of the spent fuel storage pool building, near the reactor n°2. This building, particularly accessible, contains up to three time more radioactivity than the reactor itself. The action shows how these structures are vulnerable to possible malicious external airborne attacks.

A Greenpeace stunt exposes security gaps at a French nuclear energy plant. Is the US any better at guarding its nuclear energy and weapons sites?

UNITED NATIONS — Americans can expect to see a lot of this during tomorrow’s Fourth of July holiday:

Ah, fireworks.

But here’s one thing operators and security guards at America’s nuclear energy plants and warhead storage sites will hope they don’t catch a glimpse of tomorrow: a loud, hovering Superman imposter flying toward their facility.

Early Tuesday, a drone decked out with a Superman cape and operated by Greenpeace activists crashed into “the wall of the spent fuel storage pool building” at a French nuclear energy plant near the town of Bugey.

Greenpeace said the stunt was aimed at exposing lax security at the facility, and they have a point. “The action shows how these structures are vulnerable to possible malicious external airborne attacks,” the group said in a statement.

Greenpeace activists in Sweden made a similar point in 2012 by using ladders to scale the perimeter walls of nuclear plant, as police barely batted an eye.

“They are isolated incidents, but it kind of brings into the larger question the issue of nuclear security  what are we doing to mitigate, to reduce the risk of nuclear and radiological terrorism?”

Dr. Sara Z. Kutchesfahani is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington.

“Yes these incidents happen, but on the whole the nuclear weapons countries  the countries that have nuclear energy programs  I do think they do a pretty good job of maintaining the safety and security of their weapons materials.”

In the United States, Kutchesfahani says one possible area of concern is the safety of radiological materials in the public space, particularly hospitals  for example, cesium-137 used mainly in blood irradiators  which, if they fell into the wrong hands, could be used in a radiological dispersal device.

But on the whole, she says, security incidents at American nuclear sites — like when an 83-year-old nun broke into a nuclear weapons complex in Tennessee in 2013  have seen America’s nuclear sites locked down even more in recent years:

“Not to say that since then security has abundantly improved – security has always been very, very tight here in the United States.”

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