EDF, one of the world's largest utility companies which builds and operates nuclear reactors all over the world, finds itself in the dock for hiring the services of a private security firm to spy on Greenpeace France and hack into their computers.

The case, which dates back to 2006, throws a harsh light on the industrial practices adopted by some of France's largest industrial groups. “That a company like EDF infringes the law to spy on the representative of a civil society organisation is a barrier that should never have been crossed,” said Yannick Jadot, former Director of Greenpeace France who is now a Green Euro-MP. Mr. Jadot's computer was hacked and his hard disk copied by a “security” agency hired by EDF. He got to know of the hacking through media reports.

Two senior officials of EDF's security services are appearing before a court in Nanterre, a Paris suburb, for having undertaken illegal espionage activities. They deny the charges and instead blame an outside consulting firm Kargus Consultants, dealing with “economic intelligence” for being “overzealous” and going beyond their brief. The contents of Mr Jadot's computer were later found on a CD Rom during a search of EDF premises.

EDF and Greenpeace have been battling it out over France's power production and nuclear energy option for over 20 years.

Seventy-five per cent of France's power comes from the atom. Safety has become a greater issue in France in the aftermath of Japan's Fukushima atomic disaster.

Opposition politicians are urging the government to reconsider rules for nuclear stress tests carried out before next year's presidential elections.

“Nuclear technology provokes this sort of illegal behaviour,” said Pascal Husting, executive director of Greenpeace France.

“Greenpeace's goal in the trial is to prove nuclear technology and democracy don't go together. Even more shocking is that they pried into my private life. EDF wanted to know how we functioned at a time when a huge debate was raging about nuclear safety and continues to rage today,” said Mr. Jadot.

Judge Isabelle Prevost-Deprez has denied EDF's request to suspend the trial to allow a higher court to review whether French law is being retroactively applied to the company in the case. The judge said the issue wasn't applicable. EDF's lawyer Alexis Gublin refused to comment on the issue. The company faces fines of as much as €375,000 and Greenpeace is seeking €8.3 millions from EDF and the two officials.

The two persons from the security firm hired by EDF said they had received explicit instructions from EDF to get all they could on Greenpeace, since, in the wake of the Rainbow Warrior incident, state security agencies were reluctant to spy on the NGO.

The Greenpeace ship, the Rainbow Warrior, was sunk by French security services in New Zealand in 1985 to prevent it from monitoring French nuclear testing in the Muroroa Atoll in the south Pacific.

More In: International | News