BREAKING NEWS: Nimes, France: NEWCLEAR PLANT ROCKED BY EXPLOSION: UPDATED

12 Sep

Marcoule nuclear plant

Marcoule nuclear plant in southern France. Photograph: Guillaume Horcajuelo/EPA

One person has been reported killed and four injured in an explosion at a nuclear waste processing plant in France.

An oven reportedly exploded at the Marcoule nuclear site near Nimes in the south of France. The site produces MOX fuel, which recycles plutonium from nuclear weapons, and is partly used by the French nuclear power company Areva.

Part of the process involves firing superheated pellets of plutonium and uranium in an oven to reduce them in size to make them easier to store.

Local newspaper Midi Libre reported that one person had been killed and four others injured, including one seriously, in the explosion at 11.45am (10.45 BST).

The papers said the body of one male worker at the plant had been “found carbonised”, but it added that there was no evidence that the explosion had “caused any radioactive leak”.

A spokesman for the French atomic energy authority told journalists: “For the moment, there is nothing coming out.”

The French nuclear safety authority said in a statement that the explosion had taken place in an oven used to melt metallic waste of a “weak and very weak” level of radioactivity.

Cécile Duflot, secretary general of the political party Europe Ecology, called for “real time” and “transparent” information on the incident on Twitter.

Fire officers said a safety cordon had been thrown around the plant. The explosion happened in the Centraco centre used by Socodei, a sister company of the French electricity giant EDF.

The Marcoule site is located in Languedoc-Roussillon, in southern France near the Mediterranean.

File photo of the French nuclear site of Marcoule in southeastern France

A general view shows the French nuclear site of Marcoule in southeastern France in …

NEWS UPDATE:

MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) – A furnace exploded at the Marcoule nuclear waste treatment site in southern France on Monday, killing one person, but there was no leak of radioactive material outside the furnace, France’s ASN nuclear safety watchdog said.

Four other people were injured, one seriously, in the blast at the Centraco site, owned by French power utility EDF and adjacent to the Marcoule nuclear research center. The site does not house any nuclear reactors.

The furnace that exploded is used to melt waste with levels of radioactivity ranging from low to very high, ASN said.

It did not immediately give a reason for the blast but said it was completely contained within the furnace.

Police also said there was no contamination outside the site, which is about 30 km (18 miles) from the city of Avignon and about 80 km (50 miles) from the Mediterranean coast.

France — the world’s most nuclear-reliant country — is carrying out stress tests on its 58 nuclear reactors in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

(Reporting by Jean-Francois Rosnoblet; Additional reporting by Marion Douet and Muriel Boselli in Paris; Writing by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

NEWS UPDATE:

PARIS (AP) — A nuclear waste site in southern France had an explosion Monday that killed one person, seriously burned another and slightly injured three others, France’s nuclear safety body said.

The Nuclear Safety Authority said no radioactive leaks have been detected in the blast at 12:37 p.m. (1037 GMT, 6:37 a.m. EDT) at an oven in the Centraco nuclear site. The accident was under control within the hour, the agency said in a statement.

Rescuers and medics land by helicopter in the nuclear site of Marcoule, southern France, Monday, Sept. 12, 2011. One person died and another was seriously injured in an explosion Monday in a site that treats nuclear waste in southern France, the country's nuclear safety body said, adding that no radioactive leaks have been detected. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)

Centraco is located on the grounds of another nuclear site, Marcoule, in the Languedoc-Roussillon region near the Mediterranean Sea.

“According to initial information, the explosion happened in an oven used to melt radioactive metallic waste of little and very little radioactivity,” the statement said. “There have been no leaks outside of the site.”

Those injured were not contaminated with radiation, and the outside of the building that houses the oven showed no sign of damage or contamination either, the agency said in a separate statement.

Officials from France’s EDF power company, whose subsidiary operates Centraco, stressed that there was no nuclear reactor on the site and that no waste treated at the site of the explosion came from a reactor. Spokeswoman Carole Trivi said a fire broke out after the explosion, but it has since been brought under control.

The cause of the blast was not immediately known, and an investigation has been opened, Trivi said.

The material at Centraco comes from nuclear sites and therefore is mildly radioactive, spokeswoman Carole Trivi said. She said the site treats mostly waste from EDF’s own power plants, as well as a small amount of material from hospitals or medical research labs.

Nothing comes from weapons manufacture, she said.

Staff at the plant reacted to the accident according to planned procedures, the Nuclear Safety Authority said in the statement. The local Midi Libre newspaper reported that no quarantine or evacuation measures had been immediately undertaken.

A separate statement from France’s Nuclear and Alternative Energy Commissions added that the site of the explosion remains sealed and its ventilators were operating.

Centraco is located on the 300-hectare Marcoule site, which also houses a research center and four industrial sites, including one that makes Mox, a fuel made from plutonium and uranium.

The head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, said his organization’s “incident and emergency center was immediately activated and has sent requests for detailed information.”

France is the world’s most nuclear-dependent country in the world, with the lion’s share of its electricity coming from the 58 nuclear reactors that dot the country. France is also a major exporter of nuclear power, treats nuclear waste from around the world, and state-owned nuclear giant Areva is one of the country’s most prominent companies.

The kind of soul-searching about using nuclear power that swept the world following Japan’s March 11 tsunami and the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant have been largely absent in France, which has stuck firmly to its pro-nuclear policy.

In June, President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged that France will stick to a plan to invest euro1 billion ($1.37 billion) in future nuclear reactors.

By contrast, neighboring Germany took eight of its older reactors off the grid in the wake of the Japanese disaster and lawmakers have voted to shut the country’s nine remaining nuclear plants by 2022.

Rescue and medics land by helicopter in the nuclear site of Marcoule, southern France, Monday, Sept. 12, 2011. One person died and another was seriously injured in an explosion Monday in a site that treats nuclear waste in southern France, the country's nuclear safety body said, adding that no radioactive leaks have been detected. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)

Still, French environmentalists have long called for the end to the country’s nuclear program, and the Europe Ecology-Greens party urged transparency in responding to Monday’s accident.

__

Associated Press writers Sarah DiLorenzo and Cecile Brisson in Paris contributed to this report

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