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Deadly recycling explosion

14 September 2011

A Green MEP has called for the Centraco nuclear waste treatment site in Marcoule to be shut down, as the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) begins an inquiry into a recent blast there that killed one man and injured four others.

A Green MEP has called for the Centraco nuclear waste treatment site in Marcoule to be shut down, as the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) begins an inquiry into a recent blast there that killed one man and injured four others
A Green MEP has called for the Centraco nuclear waste treatment site in Marcoule to be shut down, as the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) begins an inquiry into a recent blast there that killed one man and injured four others

ASN activated its emergency centre following the accident that took place in Centraco (centre for treatment and conditioning of low level radioactive waste) located in Codolet near Marcoule (Gard, South-East of France).

An oven dedicated to melting low and very low radioactive metallic waste exploded inside the building and it is understood that the radioactivity was contained inside the building.

According to estimations, there is one casualty and four injured people, including one severely injured. None of them are believed to be contaminated.

Centraco is owned by Socodei and the installation is dedicated to the treatment and conditioning of low level radioactive waste, either by melting of metallic waste or by incineration of waste.

ASN is in permanent contact with the prefecture of Gard and the licensee. The division of ASN in Marseille is also following the situation and sent inspectors to the prefecture and to the site.

"I think we need to decide as soon as possible to consider the shutdown of the site in the 'cleanest' way possible," Sandrine Belier, a Green MEP for the East France region, has said.

The site had been ‘singled out for poor management’ in the past, she said, adding that the accident would ‘restart the debate’ on energy policies in France, a leading proponent of nuclear power, under President Nicolas Sarkozy. "The question of nuclear power could [even] determine the presidential election," in 2012, added Belier.

The cause of the blast is not yet known and an ASN official who asked not to be named would only blame an unspecified 'technical problem’.

A statement by the European Commission has said ‘since Centraco is a waste treatment facility, it has not been subject to the stress test exercise" announced by Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger in the wake of the Fukushima disaster last March.

Marcoule is one of France's oldest nuclear sites. It was opened in 1956 to aid France's nuclear weapons industry, but in the 1990s it began recycling nuclear waste and creating mixed oxide fuel (MOX) for nuclear power stations.

Some French media reports located the scene of the blast in a waste storage facility at the plant, although other sources said it occurred inside a furnace.

A Green MEP has called for the Centraco nuclear waste treatment site in Marcoule to be shut down, as the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) begins an inquiry into a recent blast there that killed one man and injured four others
A Green MEP has called for the Centraco nuclear waste treatment site in Marcoule to be shut down, as the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) begins an inquiry into a recent blast there that killed one man and injured four others

According to Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace's nuclear energy spokesman: “The blast was most likely caused by a mixture problem in the waste," as metals, gloves and other radioactive materials were all melted down at Marcoule.

Publicly, the ASN is expressing confidence that its own past 'stress tests' of the facility will be validated by the inquiry.

"We consider that this accident is over now," an ASN spokesman said. "There is no nuclear issue. This is a technical accident, not a nuclear accident."

Belier called for such statements to be treated with caution. "It's always the logic to avoid a panic in the first instance," she said, "and [because] nuclear is a particularly dangerous area, they systematically minimise the incidents and impacts."

In June, President Sarkozy pledged to stick to a $1.37bn investment plan in nuclear power. The vast majority of France's electricity comes from its 58 nuclear reactors.


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