METZ, Oct 12 — Greenpeace activists set off fireworks inside a nuclear plant in eastern France early today after breaking into the facility to underline its vulnerability to attack.
The anti-nuclear group, known for its daring and often spectacular publicity stunts, said the fireworks were set off at the foot of a spent fuel pool — where nuclear plants store highly radioactive fuel rods that are removed from reactors after their use.
"Our activists launched a firework in the perimeter of a French nuclear plant. These installations are vulnerable," the group said on Twitter, along with a video of the stunt at the plant in Cattenom, near the border with Luxembourg.
Shortly after the pre-dawn infiltration, the state-owned EDF energy company that operates the plant said the protesters were detained before they reached the nuclear zone, and that the plant's safety was not threatened.
Roger Spautz, a Greenpeace official in Luxembourg, said that about 15 activists entered the site at around 5:30 am (0330 GMT) and crossed two security barriers to reach the building containing the spent fuel rods.
Spautz told AFP the action was aimed at drawing attention to the "fragility" of SFPs "that are not protected, unlike the reactor buildings".
On Tuesday, Greenpeace warned about security shortcomings at French and Belgian nuclear plants that make them vulnerable to attack, citing an expert report commissioned by the group.
It stressed the "even more pronounced (dangers) in the case of spent fuel pools", which are not encased in confinement buildings like reactors, despite containing hundreds of tonnes of highly radioactive fuel.
The seven experts from France, Germany, Britain and the United States — specialists in nuclear safety, proliferation, economics and radiation — looked at various attack scenarios involving plants in both countries, some of which date back more than three decades.
Built before Al-Qaeda
France has a total of 63 spent fuel pools at its 58 nuclear reactors, which provide 75 percent of the country's electricity. Belgium has two nuclear reactors.
Environmentalists have long questioned the safety of France's vast nuclear network, but around a third of all reactors in the country are set to be closed by 2025 under government plans.
Nuclear power was once a source of national pride in France, but public support has fallen in line with other European countries after the disaster at the Fukushima plant in Japan in 2011.
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.
The year before, 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.
In France, several mystery drone overflights were reported at various nuclear plants in 2014. No group ever claimed responsibility.
The Greenpeace report noted that most of France's reactors were built before the rise of modern-day threats from non-state terror groups such as the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda.
EDF said in a statement that its nuclear plants were "safe, properly monitored and very well protected" and that it was constantly evaluating their resistance to criminal acts or terrorism. — AFP