Working in Nuclear while Muslim
Working in Nuclear while Muslim
Since the inception of nuclear energy, anti-nuclear critics have been warning about the vulnerability of nuclear power plants to sabotage. Recent events indicate that we are moving closer to a period of global instability in which state governments cannot protect against non-state actors who will deliberately or unintentionally create a nuclear disaster.
This week a group of Tatar radicals attacked electricity transmission lines in Ukraine which deliver power to Crimea. The government of Ukraine has a well-known dispute with Russia over its claim to Crimea, but it likely had no intention of committing such a war crime that would endanger the lives of millions of civilians and create further tensions with Russia. The narrow-minded attackers were apparently unaware of the effect their assault would have on Ukrainian nuclear power plants, but nonetheless two of them were cut off from the electrical grid and had to use backup power. A report in Russia Today quoted a Ukrainian energy company official about the seriousness of the situation:
The apparent act of sabotage in Ukraine’s Kherson region forced an emergency power unloading at several Ukrainian nuclear power plants, which can be extremely dangerous, according to the first deputy director of Ukraine’s energy company Ukrenergo, Yuriy Katich. 
It was backup power that was famously lost at Fukushima-Daiichi, leading to the meltdown of three reactor cores and a melting of spent fuel in the Reactor 4 building. Thus these plants in Ukraine are just one step away from meltdown, but it is likely in this case that backup power can be maintained until the transmission towers are repaired. Yet the incident highlights how things will go worse in the future when a similar event occurs in a failing state where fuel for backup generators can't be supplied in time and the main transmission lines can't be repaired.
Social instability is also a factor now in France. The attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015 highlighted the inability of security agencies to identify and break up groups of French citizens who are intent on committing acts of mass violence. If they couldn't be found in the suburbs of Paris, how can we be sure that they will be found among people who work at nuclear power plants? This issue came to light in a report published in Le Journal du Dimanche on November 22, 2015 (translated below). It was reported that French security agencies have been using religious affiliation as a reason to deny access to nuclear power plants.
Everyone would like to keep NPPs safe from deliberate acts of destruction, but there are serious problems involved in trying to eliminate all risks. The security agencies are using affiliations as the basis of exclusion, without any official charge of criminal intent or conspiracy. Thus if an enterprise is so dangerous that large segments of society have to be denied the right to work in it, in the vain hope that doing so will prevent sabotage, it is worth asking whether this enterprise should exist at all. Is there a safer way to boil water or to produce electricity without boiling water?
Le Journal du Dimanche (Sunday Journal)
by Matthieu Pechberty
November 22, 2015
Radicalization has affected nuclear power plants operated by EDF (Électricité de France). Authorities have already withdrawn access for dozens of employees since the beginning of the year.
Since the attacks [November 13, 2015], state authorities are on the lookout as they face a rise in Islamic radicalization at EDF sites. During a meeting of the High Commission for Transparency and Information on Nuclear Security (HCTISN), the high commissioner for defense of nuclear security, Christophe Quintin, acknowledged, without being more precise, that employees are being refused access to nuclear power plants notably for reasons related to Islamic radicalization. Michel Lallier, representative of the CGT [labor union] (Confédération Général de Travail) confirmed, "He certainly spoke of radicalization, even if his response was evasive. We'll never know exactly what the security concern was."
At this meeting, Mr. Quintin's assistant, Colonel Riac, emphasized the justification for the lack of transparency of the authorities. A Greenpeace representative who was at the meeting, Yannick Rousselet, said, "He clearly said he would not state the reasons for the denial of access to an employee. It could be because he frequented a radical milieu. He even acknowledged that these people have not committed any offense and the judgment process is somewhat arbitrary." The two officials were contacted, but did not return calls.
An employee at Flamanville targeted by DGSI
On November 4th, Christophe Quintin made an important announcement. At a lunch conference devoted to information on nuclear sites, one of the attendees reported that Mr. Quintin told the invited group that he estimated "the services eject one person per week for the phenomenon of radicalization." He explained that this surveillance applied to French workers but less so to foreign workers and workers subcontracted by EDF. Each year, the services of the state make 100,000 administrative inquiries for 73,000 workers (of which 23,000 are contractors)
In Flamanville, an employee of EDF told his story. Clément Reynaud, chemical engineer for ten years, converted to Islam in 2010 and requested site management in 2012 to provide a place for him to pray. After lengthy examination, EDF, which knew of no similar cases, gave its approval. However, the security forces at the site alerted the local offices of information services, which then became involved in the case. Eighteen months later, Mr. Reynaud became the secretary of the association that manages the mosque at Cherbourg. A police officer in Normandy explained, "His file was taken to the national level by the DGSI (Direction générale de la sécurité intérieure). The case was judged to be serious." On December 1st, Clément Reynaud took a one-year leave of absence in order to create his own personal coaching business for Muslims. He explained, "I want to help them organize their lives to make time for the five daily prayers and for reading the Koran."
In August 2014, a Muslim engineer employed by an EDF subcontractor was denied access to the nuclear power plant at Nogent-sur-Seine. There again, the prefecture did not explain its motives for the decision, but religion was at the heart of it. One year ago, Belgian authorities discovered that a person who left to fight in Syria had spent several years working as an engineer at the Doel NPP with access to the reactor. The plant is operated by the French company Engie (formerly GDF Suez).
* The headline in the original article used the term dérives, which has a softer connotation than radicals, but it is difficult to find a similar term that is in common usage in English. Dérive implies one who has gone off the correct path, drifted, or become misguided. These terms perhaps should be used in English to describe those who commit violence in the name of religion, but instead the terms radical and extremist are more common.
 "Ukraine nuclear power plants ‘dangerously’ without power as towers feeding energy to Crimea blown up," Russia Today, November 23, 2015, https://www.rt.com/news/323060-ukraine-nuclear-plants-danger/