Explosion at French nuclear plant

14 September 2011

The safety of French nuclear power plants has been seriously undermined by the explosion at a waste processing plant on Monday 12 September which killed one worker and injured four others.

The explosion happened at the Marcoule facility near Nimes in southern France when an oven used to burn nuclear waste exploded. The site, partly operated by an EDF subsidiary, stores large quantities of radioactive waste and produces mixed oxide (MOX) reactor fuel containing plutonium. There are also a number of decommissioned reactors from the early years of the French nuclear programme. It is still unclear whether any radioactive materials leaked during the accident.

An EDF spokesman was quoted in the Guardian as saying: "According to our initial information it was an explosion in an oven used to melt metallic radioactive waste of a low level radioactivity." The price of shares in EDF fell 6% on the Paris stock exchange after the news was announced.

Stop Hinkley responded with the following statement:

"The accident in France is a sobering reminder of what can go wrong when a country commits itself so heavily to nuclear power, including all the problems associated with handling radioactive waste. Yet we are now proposing to import French technology to Hinkley Point and store waste there for 100 years or more.

After Fukushima in Japan this accident serves as yet another tragic reminder of the dangers of nuclear power and the urgent need for the UK government to follow the lead taken by Germany in phasing it out."

Brief history of accidents at EDF nuclear sites in France
(from Reuters and Guardian)

  • July 2011: Explosion and fire at Tricastin nuclear power station just two days after the authorities found 32 safety concerns at the plant.

  • June 2011: Internal leakage at Paluel 3 nuclear reactor was reported by French investigative website Mediapart.

  • November 2009: A fuel assembly rod got stuck in the pressure vessel at Tricastin plant in southeast France , raising the risk of an accident. A similar incident took place in September 2008 in the same reactor during refuelling operations. It took two months for engineers from EDF and French energy group Areva to stabilise the position of the rod and proceed with its unhooking and removal.

  • July 2008: Thirty cubic metres of a liquid containing natural uranium was accidentally poured on the ground and into a river at Areva's Socatri site in southeastern France . The spillage happened while the tank was being cleaned at the complex, part of the Tricastin nuclear site, which houses four nuclear reactors. France 's ASN nuclear watchdog rebuked Areva for mishandling the accident.

  • December 1999: A massive storm provoked the partial flooding of some reactors at Blayais plant in southwestern France . Many nuclear opponents said the flooding nearly caused a major catastrophe because it briefly cut off power.

  • March 1980: An accident at EDF's Saint-Laurent nuclear reactor in central France caused two fuel rods to melt, seriously damaging the reactor and causing the most serious accident in France 's nuclear history, classified as level 4 on the International Nuclear Event Scale which runs from zero to 7.


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12 Sep 11: Explosion at French nuclear waste plant: An explosion at a French nuclear waste processing plant that killed one person and injured four others sparked fears of a radioactive leak on Monday. An emergency safety cordon was thrown around the Marcoule nuclear site near Nimes in the south of France immediately after a furnace used to melt nuclear waste exploded and caused a fire. Guardian Report >>>



Page Updated 14-Sep-2011