One Dead in French Nuclear Waste Furnace Explosion

PARIS, France, September 12, 2011 (ENS) – An explosion at a nuclear waste processing facility in France has killed one person and injured four others, but no radiation has leaked from the site in southern France, officials said today.

One of the injured men is in serious condition with burns; he has been evacuated to a hospital in Montpellier.

Marcoule nuclear site (Photo courtesy Marcoule)

The explosion happened this morning at the Centraco processing center for low-level radioactive waste located close to the site of Marcoule nuclear power plant in the Gard prefecture, 25 kilometers (15 miles) northwest of Avignon, on the banks of the Rhône River.

The furnace that exploded is used to melt radioactive metal scrap and the blast was contained within the furnace, officials said. Fire crews set up a safety cordon around the plant because of the potential risk of leakage.

France’s government nuclear safety body, the Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire, ASN, released a statement saying that the explosion did not cause any radioactivity to escape the building in which the explosion occurred.

“The building concerned was not damaged. No contamination was noted: the casualties are not contaminated and the measurements carried out outside the building by the owner and the public services of specialized firemen did not reveal any contamination,” said ASN.

The ASN immediately mobilized its Marseilles division and dispatched inspectors to the site and into the surrounding prefecture.

The melting furnace at Centraco (Photo courtesy Socodei)

Centraco is used by the Socodei company to treat waste that is slightly or very slightly radioactive, such as valves, pumps and tools, as well as solid and liquid waste produced by nuclear facilities, research laboratories, and hospitals. The waste is treated either by fusion for metal waste, or by incineration for incinerable waste.

Socodei, a sister company of Électricité de France, EDF, says it carried out its internal emergency plan in accordance with procedures.

By 1:30 this afternoon the accident was controlled by the response teams from the factory, Socodei said in a statement.

“There were no chemical or radioactive releases,” Socodei said. “The room where the furnace is located is clean. The two furnaces of the plant were stopped.”

The ASN has suspended its emergency mobilization, saying it remains in liaison with the prefecture of Gard and with the owner of Socodei. The nuclear safety agency will carry out inspections, in coordination with the Factory inspectorate, to determine the exact causes of the accident.

Operational since 1956, Marcoule is a large nuclear site run by the atomic energy organization Commissariat à l’Énergie Atomique and Areva NC.

The first industrial and military plutonium experiments took place at Marcoule. Diversification of the site started in the 1970s with the creation of the Phénix prototype fast breeder reactor, which was operational until 2009, and is now used for activities related to the decommissioning of nuclear facilities.

The Phénix reactor is expected to be succeeded by the sodium-cooled fast reactor ASTRID (Advanced Sodium Technical Reactor for Industrial Demonstration) in the 2015-2020 time frame.

The site housed three early French uranium-graphite reactors, of which have all been shut down as obsolete. A pressurized water reactor used to produce tritium was also built onsite.

Since 1995, the MELOX factory at Marcoule has been producing MOX fuel for nuclear reactors from a mix of uranium and plutonium oxides.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.