Explosion At French Nuclear Plant

In Europe, News Headlines, Pollution

An explosion in a furnace at a French nuclear waste reprocessing plant has killed one worker, but authorities insist there is no risk of any radiation leak.

France’s Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) says the incident at the Marcoule plant in the south of the country “is over”.

“This accident has no radiological risk or need for population protection,” it said in a statement.

Four workers were injured by the explosion, in a furnace in an area of the plant where nuclear waste is recycled for energy.

A security perimeter has been set up around the installation, firefighters said, without being able to provide further details.

“Initial reports suggest there was an explosion in an oven used to melt metallic low and very low-level radioactive waste,” ASN said.

The French government sought to play down fears of a radioactive leak after the explosion, with the interior ministry saying no one was evacuated from near the site nor were any workers confined following the blast.

Those injured “have not been contaminated” and the fatality was caused by the explosion, the ministry said.

France’s state nuclear regulator had said earlier that there was a risk of a leak after the blast at the plant near Codolet in the Rhone Valley near the southern city of Nimes.

The blast hit the Centraco nuclear waste treatment centre belonging to EDF subsidiary Socodei, said a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Commissariat (CEA).

An EDF spokesman said: “This is an industrial accident, not a nuclear accident.”

“In this kind of oven, there are two sorts of waste: metallic waste such as valves, pumps and tools and combustible waste such as technicians’ work outfits or gloves,” the spokesman said.

“The fire started by the explosion is under control.”

Environment minister Nathalie Kosciuscko-Morizet was due to arrive at the site on Monday afternoon (local time), her ministry said, “to help carry out a precise evaluation of the possible radiological impact of this accident”.

“For the time being, no exterior impact has been detected,” a source at the ministry said.

“There are several detectors on the outside and none of them detected anything – the building is sound,” an advisor at the ministry said, adding that “we do not yet know what caused the blast”.

Built in 1956, Marcoule is one of the oldest plants in France, though the first generation of nuclear reactors had been shutdown and the plant modernised.

Seventy-five per cent of French power comes from nuclear technology.

There are 19 plants and 58 reactors country-wide, which have all been subject to rigorous safety checks in recent months since the Fukushima reactor disaster in Japan.

The Marcoule site is around 20 kilometres north of the historic city of Avignon which is thronged with tourists at this time of the year.

EDF’s share price dropped over 6 per cent on the news of the blast.

France said in June it would invest one billion euros in future nuclear power development while boosting research into security.

The country produces most of its energy from nuclear power. Some countries, notably its EU neighbour Germany, have rejected nuclear power after the disaster in Japan.

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