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France Positions Missiles

Wednesday October 24, 2001 11:30 PM

PARIS (AP) - The French military has positioned surface-to-air missiles at two sensitive military and nuclear processing sites in western France as a precaution against airborne suicide attacks, defense officials said Wednesday.

Anti-aircraft missile defense systems were being positioned to protect Ile Longue, a military base for nuclear submarines off the Brittany coast, and La Hague, the site of Europe's largest nuclear waste reprocessing plant, air force spokesman Frederic Solano said Wednesday.

Solano said the radar and missile systems, ``enable us to identify aircraft ... and if necessary, to shoot them down.'' There have been no threats so far, and the missile systems - expected to be fully installed by Thursday - are purely a precaution, the Defense Ministry said.

Radar systems capable of scouting out airplanes flying at low altitudes were already moved near the two sites Friday. There are also 12 fighter planes stationed throughout France that are capable of taking off in five minutes' notice in case of an attack.

Jolted into action by the Sept. 11 attacks, governments throughout Europe have tightened security outside nuclear power and radioactive waste facilities. Hungary is one other European country that has placed surface-to-air rockets near a nuclear facility. The country's only nuclear power plant is located about 60 miles south of Budapest.

France has been bolstering defense in the northwest since the Sept. 11 attacks. Many of the country's air bases are located in the south, which had left the sensitive northwest area vulnerable.

Officials have declined to say what France was doing, however, to protect its 20 nuclear power plants from terrorist attacks. France gets more than three-fourths of its power from nuclear energy.

``The less we say, the more effective our system will be,'' Solano said.

In some countries, officials have continued to discuss the best way to protect nuclear sites.

German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin said last week that he would discuss with power companies how nuclear plants could be quickly switched off in case of a threat or attack. But he has dismissed calls from some opposition politicians for missiles to defend them. Germany has instead stressed the need for tighter air security to prevent hijackings.

In Britain, the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority said nuclear plants have been on a heightened state of alert since Sept. 11 but would not provide details.

An official at Britain's Ministry of Defense said, however, that fighter pilots are on alert, able to get to plants quickly when necessary. No surface-to-air missiles have been placed at nuclear facilities, she said.

In Sweden, a spokesman at the Swedish Nuclear Power Directorate said security checks of visitors to the nation's four nuclear plants were more rigorous since the U.S. hijackings. Christer Viktorsson declined to comment on other measures, saying only that staff were in a ``great state of readiness'' and that ``drills will focus more on different types of sabotage.''

In Slovakia, officials altered the corridor for civilian flights to reduce the danger of attacks on strategic targets such as oil refineries, dams and its two nuclear plants.,1280,-1262391,00.html

-- Martin Thompson (, October 25, 2001


Surface to air missiles? Smart. Hope we get with it, and soon.

-- Wayward (, October 25, 2001.

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