Third quarter of 2001

La Hague Particularly Exposed to Plane Crash Risk

WISE-Paris briefing as PDF file (13 pages, 349 Ko)

WISE-Paris, 27 September 2001

[Posted 27/09/2001]

The 11 September 2001 attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon also hit the classical risk assessment procedures. In the case of nuclear facilities, it clearly appears that the international approach, summed up in France in two Fundamental Safety Regulations (Règles Fondamentales de Sûreté - RFS) applicable to reactors and other facilities, is now out-of-date: it is based on a probabilistic reasoning according to which a very serious risk but very improbable is admitted as "acceptable".

For the design of nuclear facilities, this vision resulted in considering only the risk of an accidental crash of small-sized aircraft, several hundred times less significant as far as impact is concerned, and containing only a fraction of the amount of kerosene the airliners "used" by the terrorists in the United States.

In spite of the reassuring tone adopted by the French authorities - contradicted by safety experts in France as well as by specialists of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) - the risk is that of a major accident: besides the fact that nuclear reactors are not conceived to resist a crash of such a scope, building experts agree to say that no construction made either of steel or concrete is guaranteed against the impact of a heavy airplane loaded with fuel. In the case of the containment wall of a nuclear reactor, this could lead to a scenario of releasing radioactivity comparable to that of the Chernobyl accident.

But the greatest danger comes undoubtedly from the La Hague reprocessing facilities, which concentrate a stock of radioactive substances that largely exceeds those of all the French nuclear reactors put together. WISE-Paris estimated that a serious accident scenario in only one of the irradiated fuel cooling pools at La Hague could lead to the release of radioactive cesium up to over 60 times the amount release during the Chernobyl accident.

A voluntary crash of an airliner on La Hague, a hypothesis still judged " improbable " by COGEMA, but which today has become " plausible ", could result in such a scenario. Neither the reactors, nor the La Hague facilities are designed to resist such an impact. The crash of a big plane on La Hague could severely damage or destroy, besides the spent fuel pools, other parts of the plant such as the storage of high active wastes and the store of more than 55 tons of plutonium, the consequences of which would be impossible to price.

WISE-Paris briefing as PDF file (13 pages, 349 Ko)

Articles published in the French and foreign press, and press release: (checked on October 9, 2002)

"Scénarios terribles pour cibles sensibles", Libération, 18 septembre 2001

"Note d'information sur la protection des installations nucléaires contre les chutes d'avions", Communiqué DSIN, 13 septembre 2001

"Le point sur la sûreté de l'usine de La Hague face au risque de chute d'avion", Communiqué COGEMA, 18 septembre 2001

Articles published in the German and Swiss press:

New links added 09/24/01

German press:

United Kingdom press:,6903,556661,00.html

Swedish press:

Back to contents