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Greenpeace activists break into French nuclear plant

    Greenpeace protest at nuclear power station Fessenheim. Photo credit: Daniel Mueller/Greenpeace

A dozen of Greenpeace activists sneaked into France's oldest nuclear power plant earlier this morning in an effort to highlight security weaknesses at nuclear facilities in Europe. All in all, about 60 Greenpeace activists from 14 different countries participated in today's protest at the Fessenheim nuclear plant - the oldest in France.

The protest started early at dawn this Tuesday when several activists sneaked inside the premises of the nuclear power plant to hang anti-nuclear banners from a building next to one of the plant's reactors. A couple of activists even managed to climb on top of the reactor number 1's roof where they unfurled banners with the message "Stop Risking Europe". The rest of the activists stayed outside the plant, blocking its entrance with barrels and demanding the shutdown of the plant.

"The Fessenheim plant is a symbol," Greenpeace activist Cyrille Cormier said. "Its planned closure must be the beginning of a series of plant closures in Europe to limit the accidental and financial risks linked to ageing (plants) and to start the energy transition."

The Fessenheim nuclear plant, which is France's oldest and considered vulnerable to seismic activity and flooding, is located in north-eastern Europe, only 1,5 km from Germany in the third most densely populated region in Metropolitan France and in the centre of the so-called European Backbone. The nuclear plant is situated on the banks of the Rhine, one of Europe's largest rivers that runs through three different countries. So if an accident were to happen at the nuclear plant, it wouldn't just be France who would be affected.

France's President François Hollande has said that he wants to reduce France’s reliance on nuclear power from 75% to 50% by 2025. Hollande has earlier promised to shut Fessenheim down by 2016. But despite this, there are currently discussions in France about extending the lifetime of several nuclear plants beyond their 40 years.

"We’re demanding Mr Hollande keep his promise by limiting maximum reactor lifetimes to 40 years by law and ensuring more nuclear plants are shut down," Greenpeace said in a statement. "With climate change upon us it should really go without saying that Europe needs a real energy transition based on renewable energy. This needs to happen fast."

A spokesman from EDF, the plant's operator, said in a statement that further precautionary measures has been taken. "There has been no impact on the security of the plant, which continues to function normally," the EDF spokesman said. Following today's protest, Ecology Minister Philippe Martin said he would "ask operators to reinforce the physical protection of the most sensitive zones in their nuclear facilities."

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