A series of mysterious drone flights over French nuclear reactors recently is exposing a security threat that has authorities scrambling.
There have been more than a dozen sightings so far, including one this week, of small unmanned aircraft. They haven’t inflicted damage nor has anyone publicly claimed responsibility, according to atomic operators and French ministers. In spite of government assurances that a probe is underway, the flights have been going on for more than a month.
“Drones can undermine the defenses used to protect nuclear plants from sabotage,” Dave Lochbaum, director of the nuclear safety project at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based advocacy group, said by e-mail. “They can aid an attack by damaging power supplies and communications networks that shorten the list of damage that ground attackers must complete.”
Electricite de France SA (EDF) operates the 58 nuclear reactors that dot the countryside across France, making the nation the most reliant in the world on atomic power. Following the 2011 meltdown at Fukushima, the French nuclear regulator organized so-called stress tests to gauge how resilient installations were to a serious accident. Security issues such as threats from terrorism and airplane crashes were left out of the exercise.
While Lochbaum doesn’t consider drones in themselves a “clear and present danger” to the plants, he says they are an “emerging technology and need to be factored as expeditiously as possible into security measures to protect nuclear plants.”