French emergency exercise flawed as public debate on nuclear plans collapses

Press release - 19 October, 2005
The danger and secrecy of the French nuclear industry has been further exposed by plans for an emergency exercise at the la Hague plutonium plant, Greenpeace stated today.

The exercise is due to be conducted by the plant operators, Areva, and the authorities on Thursday 20 October (1). However, results of a new analysis commissioned by Greenpeace show that in the event of deliberate armed attack hazardous radioactive material including plutonium and high-level nuclear waste fission products would be dispersed over a wide area, outside the area to be evacuated by French authorities. 

Simultaneously, plans by the French Government to hold public consultations on Electricite de France's (EdF) new European Pressurized Water reactor (EPR) before authorizing construction are in disarray. The Government appointed Commission established to coordinate the debate, has been informed by the office of the Prime Minister that significant information related to nuclear safety and security of the new large reactor will not be made public (2).

"These two events demonstrate the reality of nuclear power in France. An emergency exercise motivated by public relations rather than real-case scenarios and concern for public safety, and a determination by the Government and EdF to block public debate on vital nuclear safety and security issues - nuclear power and democracy are not compatible," said Yannick Rousselet of Greenpeace France.  

Ahead of the Areva exercise, Greenpeace International engaged Large & Associates to conduct a brief assessment (3) of what an armed terrorist group could do once it had obtained access to the la Hague complex.

Of the three scenarios assessed in all cases radioactive releases extend the need for active counter-measures, such as sheltering and evacuation, beyond the immediate locality of la Hague, with the plutonium and HLW releases requiring evacuation of Cherbourg and beyond. In one of the scenario's evacuation would be required to as far out as 100km from la Hague due to the high radiation dose expected (4).

Dr John Large from Large & Associates commented: "on the information that I have received, the Areva exercise considerably underplays the seriousness and severity of the impact of a terrorist attack. A real exercise would test the emergency services and the effectiveness of countermeasures; this contrived exercise will not." 

"Claims that nuclear power has a future defy the reality of the security and safety risks posed by reactors and the nuclear waste and plutonium they produce. The French government and EdF (and Areva) may be trying to impose new facilities on the French people, but its clear that existing plants already threaten public health and the environment far beyond French territory," said Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace International.  

Greenpeace is an independent campaigning organisation, which uses non-violent, creative communications tools to put the spotlight on global environmental problems, and drives towards solutions essential for a green and peaceful future.

Other contacts: Yannick Rousselet - Greenpeace France nuclear campaigner +33 685 806559Shaun Burnie - Greenpeace International nuclear campaigner +44 7725915873Mhairi Dunlop - Greenpeace International Communications +44 7801 212960

VVPR info: The analysis, including computer generated dispersal models, are available at www.largeassociates.com/la_hague_terrorist_exercise.htm

Notes: 1. Greenpeace understands the exercise to be conducted at la Hague will involve between 800 and 900 children and students from a local nursery, school and college. After being kept inside, they will be evacuated. A smaller number around 100-200 will be involved all day. French naval forces will also take part, possibly to assist in evacuation.2. The French nuclear secrecy decree issued in 2003 is one reason why information is not to be made available to independent scientific experts, environmental NGOs and the general public. The panel of experts resigned en masse on Monday 16 October 2005 citing information restrictions. 3. Analysis conducted by consulting nuclear engineers Large and Associates looked at three scenarios:* an attack on an irradiated fuel flask waiting to be processed into the storage ponds;* the dispersion of a few kilograms of the 55 tonnes of plutonium dioxide currently stored at la Hague;* the rupturing and release from a single high level liquor waste tank. 4. More catastrophic scenarios not in latest this assessment would include passenger aircraft impact on la Hague. In 2002, the Government deployed anti-aircraft missile systems around la Hague.

Exp. contact date: 2005-10-30 00:00:00