When the Threat comes from the Sky
19 unidentified overflights of the French nuclear power plants alerted government authorities, but also public opinions, to the risks associated with the operation of these very sensitive sites. Fortunately, these were unarmed drones. However, there is a real risk that a plane crash could severly damage a nuclear plant. Despite the assurances from the nuclear industry, nuclear power plant vulnerability to aircraft crashes has been a serious and continuing issue.The "World Nuclear Association" emphasizes that only 3 major reactor accidents have occured in the history of civil nuclear power: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. That being said, the international context has changed: civil air traffic has undergone important growth and terrorist groups are expanding their criminal activities. It is estimated that 436 nuclear reactors are operating in 28 countries around the world.Together four countries, the U.S.,France,Japan and Russia have 244 reactors in operation, representing nearly 60% of the total number of the nuclear reactors around the world. It needed to be stressed that France with percentage 74.1 is ranking first in the world for nuclear-based electricity production.Yet, the 58 French nuclear reactors like most other reactors throughout the world are designed to withstand an aircraft crash with a maximum weight of 5 tonnes.The problem is that large civil aircrafts of type Airbus A380 or Boeing 747 have a weight between 400 and 500 tonnes! Moreover, even small aircrafts or drones could cause serious damage to the water-filled spent final storage ponds. And it should be noted that the used nuclear fuel is always placed in wet storage pools at each of the reactor sites. We must admit that this issue is largely unaddressed. We are told that the banking system has been subjected to serious stress tests. So why not the nuclear industry?