Paris Terror Spurs Plan for Military Zones Around Nuclear Plants

Lawmakers in France want to create military zones around its 58 atomic reactors to boost security after this month’s Paris terror attacks and almost two dozen mystery drone flights over nuclear plants that have baffled authorities.

“There’s a legal void that needs to be plugged,” said Claude de Ganay, the opposition member of the National Assembly spearheading legislation to be considered by parliament on Feb. 5. The proposals would classify atomic energy sites as “highly sensitive military zones” under the control of the Ministry of Defense, according to an outline provided by de Ganay.

France, still on its highest terror alert after 17 people were mowed down by gunmen in attacks on the capital, has been plagued by more than 20 illegal drone flights over its nuclear plants since September. Police and the government have said they don’t know who is responsible for the flights and anti-nuclear campaigners from Greenpeace have denied any involvement.

The slaughter in Paris and the drones mean a new law is “urgent,” said de Ganay, a member of the parliament’s defense committee whose constituency includes the Dampierre reactor.

Critics of the measures say they won’t prevent assaults by extremists and would ramp up criminal penalties against civic campaigners such as anti-nuclear activists for trespassing on land owned by companies that operate power stations.

Do Nothing

“A law of this type may deter activists but won’t do anything to prevent a terrorist attack on nuclear installations,” said Yannick Rousselet, Greenpeace’s nuclear campaigner in France. The group says it wants greater fortification of sites and improved coordination between the atomic regulator and defense authorities on security.

Nuclear facilities in France, more dependent on atomic power than any other country, have been routinely penetrated by environmental activists. Greenpeace stormed the Fessenheim plant in March, scaling fences with ladders.

The government and reactor operator Electricite de France SA were preparing new security measures even before the Paris attacks, said an Energy Ministry official who asked not to be identified because of policy. EDF spends about 200 million euros ($230 million) a year on maintaining and improving protection, a spokesman said, declining to elaborate.

France is unusual in not handing oversight for security of nuclear generation to the regulator for the industry, meaning that different groups are involved in managing protection.

“Discussions are ongoing about who should have authority over security,” said Pierre-Franck Chevet, president of the Autorite de Surete Nucleaire. “Putting security in the hands of the nuclear regulator is inevitable. Most countries are organized this way. France is an exception.”

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