1 dead after fire at French nuclear waste site
No radiation was discharged, company says
PARIS - An explosion and fire yesterday at a French nuclear-waste processing site killed one person and injured four, heightening concern about safety risks from atomic energy after the disaster in Japan six months ago.
There was no chemical or radioactive discharge from the Centraco plant in the town of Codolet in southern France, said Carole Trivi, a spokeswoman for the owner Electricite de France
Europe’s biggest power producer, which also operates France’s 58 nuclear reactors, treats low-level radioactive waste at the plant about 80 miles northwest of Marseille, the country’s second-biggest city. France depends on nuclear reactors for about three-quarters of its power needs, the most of any country.
This is the first time a “drama on this scale’’ occurred at the site, according to Socodei, the EDF unit that operates the facility. Socodei said the explosion was in a building housing a furnace where metallic waste is treated by fusion. An investigation will be carried out. “There is no risk of leaks to come,’’ EDF said in a later statement.
The accident happened as the nation’s nuclear regulator is carrying out safety checks at the country’s reactors and some of its treatment sites to determine whether they can withstand floods, earthquakes, and loss of power and cooling. The inspections were triggered by Japan’s atomic disaster in March.
French environmentalists have long called for an end to France’s nuclear program, and several leftist parties urged authorities here to rethink the country’s nuclear policy after yesterday’s accident.
Sophia Majnoni, who runs Greenpeace’s antinuclear campaign in France, said the plant was not part of a French safety audit conducted after the Fukushima accident.
“It is a nuclear plant, yet its resistance to earthquake or flooding won’t be checked, which allows us to think that the government has not drawn all the lessons from the Fukushima catastrophe,’’ she said. “It is not only the nuclear power plants that are dangerous for population.’’
A fire in a furnace at the Centraco site was brought under control at 1:06 p.m. local time, leaving one of the injured in critical condition from burns, according to statements from Socodei and the atomic regulator.
The furnace, which began operations in 1999, melts and compresses low-level radioactive metals and was one of two at the site, according to the utility. Both have been stopped.
“There was no radioactive leakage outside the installation,’’ the French nuclear safety authority said on its website.
EDF, along with France’s
“Today’s incident in France is another example that we move into action,’’ rather than just discussing safety, Yukiya Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told a news conference in Vienna. Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said she would visit the site.
Nearby populations weren’t advised to take any specific measures such as staying indoors or being evacuated, Trivi said. The person who died in the explosion was an employee of Socodei.
A separate treatment site nearby, the Marcoule facility, has installations that treat higher-level spent fuel from EDF’s reactors, according to the ASN.
Socodei is aiming to expand operations because of the need to treat increasing amounts of waste from reactors, according to the report. The ASN watchdog called in the head of Centraco in November 2008 to discuss safety gaps and progress was noted at the end of last year in improving the situation, the document states.
Japan’s March 11 tsunami and the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant didn’t spark the kind of soul-searching over reliance on nuclear energy in France that it did in other countries, including Germany. Eight older German reactors were quickly taken off the grid, and the nine remaining plants are to close over the coming decade.
Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.