-- Greenpeace says demonstrates French nuclear plants' vulnerability to aerial threats
-- EDF says safety, security of nuclear installations was never called into question
-- Greenpeace calls upon presidential candidates to have a proper assessment of French nuclear security
(Adds detail and background throughout, adds EDF share price.)
By Geraldine Amiel
An activist from Greenpeace was arrested early Wednesday at a French nuclear plant, as the environmentalist group tried once more to push the issue of nuclear safety up the agenda a few days ahead of the second round of voting in the country's presidential election.
Nuclear energy has become one of the key issues dividing the main candidates for the French presidency, after last year's accident at Fukushima, Japan, triggered a massive public debate. Incumbent Nicholas Sarkozy has rejected any need for France to reduce its dependence on nuclear energy, which currently accounts for about 75% of the country's electricity, but Socialist candidate Francois Hollande, who is leading the polls, has endorsed a plan to reduce that to 50% by 2025.
The Greenpeace activist Wednesday flew over the Bugey nuclear plant, near Lyons in southern France, in a motorized paraglider and landed outside the nuclear part of the compound, where he was arrested.
"At no time was the security and safety of the installations called into question," said a spokeswoman for state-controlled Electricite de France SA (>> EDF), which owns and operates the plant, adding that security processes allowed for the early detection and immediate arrest of the activist.
Yet to Greenpeace, the action demonstrated the "vulnerability of nuclear installations to aerial threats."
In a statement, the environmentalist group said that French authorities don't take exterior threats into account when assessing the safety and security of nuclear plants. In December, the government admitted security dysfunctions after 11 Greenpeace activists broke into the compound of two of the country's nuclear plants.
"Four days before the second round of the presidential election, Greenpeace calls upon the two final candidates to commit to start a thorough assessment of risks of external aggression of human origin against nuclear plants," the environmentalist lobby said.
France embraced the atom following the 1973 oil crisis, in order to boost its energy independence and develop a world-class industry that exports nuclear technology.
EDF owns and operates all of France's 58 reactors. France is the world's second-largest nuclear operator after the U.S., with around 80% of its power of nuclear origin.
EDF is also currently building a third-generation safety-enhanced nuclear reactor, called the Evolutionary Pressurized Reactor or EPR, which its designer Areva SA (>> AREVA) says can withstand a direct hit from an airliner.
At 0840 GMT, shares in EDF were trading down 1.2% at EUR15.80 while the CAC-40 benchmark index was up 1.2%.
-By Geraldine Amiel, Dow Jones Newswires; +33 140171767; [email protected]
Stocks mentioned in the article : EDF