Non-essential staff at Belgian nuclear plants Doel and Tihange sent home

PARIS (Reuters) - Staff not essential for the running of nuclear plants in Doel and Tihange in Belgium have been sent home at the request of Belgian authorities following the deadly attacks in Brussels, the plants' French operator, Engie, said on Tuesday. A spokesman for Engie - which owns and operates seven reactors in Belgium through its Electrabel unit - told Reuters that key staff remained on site to continue operating the facilities, however. He added the decision was part of a set of safety measures related to the high security alert in the country following the attacks on Brussels airport and a rush-hour metro train in the Belgian capital. "Only those who are really needed are staying, the other people were sent home," Belgium's Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) spokeswoman Nele Scheerlinck told Belgian daily Het Laatste Nieuws. She said that for the foreseeable future Belgium's nuclear plants will continue operating with staffing levels similar to weekend service to ensure that no unauthorized personnel could gain access to the plants. "Some 1,000 people work on sites like these. Their backgrounds are all checked thoroughly, but better safe than sorry," she was quoted as saying. A FANC spokesman told Reuters that security has been ramped up at all the country's nuclear sites. "There is an increased military presence at the sites ... since the events of this morning," he said. (Reporting by Geert De Clercq in Paris and Susanna Twidale in London; Editing by Mark Potter and David Evans)