Report points to explosion at nuclear plant in France

An explosion has taken place at a nuclear reprocessing plant, killing one person and injuring four others.

A report on the website of French newspaper Midi Libre said the explosion took place at around 1145 today. The resulting fire was brought under control at 1306.

A large induction furnace exploded at the Centraco (centre for treatment and conditioning of radioactive waste) storage facility at the Marcoule nuclear site, which is operated by Socodei, a sister company of EDF in south-east France.

The furnace, which was brought into service in 1999, melts down low level radioactive metal waste such as valves, pumps and tools, and non-ferrous metals by induction. The resulting melted down waste, in the form of ingots, is said to be ten times smaller in volume than the initial material.

‘Centraco processes very low-, low- and intermediate-level waste that comes from industry and research activities,’ said Prof Andrew Sherry, director of the Dalton Nuclear Institute at Manchester University. ‘These can include metal objects (drums, metallic boxes, containers), waste clothing (gloves and laboratory overalls), and waste solutions (oils, solvents and resins).  The incinerator plant includes three chambers that operate up to 1,200°C.’

According to the Midi Libre report, France’s nuclear safety authority and EDF have said that no chemical or radioactive leaks have been detected as a result of the accident.

‘The facility is a major research site with many activities associated with decommissioning of France’s early nuclear facilities,’ said Dame Sue Ion, nuclear engineer and Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

‘The explosion occurred in a facility dedicated to the conditioning of low-level waste of various origin before transfer to the ANDRA, The French National Low Level Waste repository.

‘While clearly a tragedy given the loss of life due to the explosion, it is not thought there will be major off-site consequences or release of radioactivity.’