Monday, September 12, 2011

France: “An industrial accident, not a nuclear one”

FRANCE-REACTORS/In France today:

One person was killed and four were injured Monday afternoon in an explosion at a nuclear waste treatment site in southern France, according to the French Nuclear Safety Authority.

I saw some reports that said this was a electricity generation facility. Not so.

The site, about 20 miles from Avignon, has no nuclear reactors, the authority said.

Since the Times points to the French authority, let’s see what it has to say:

L’accident survenu ce matin dans l’installation nucléaire Centraco située près du site de Marcoule (Gard) est terminé.

L’explosion d’un four servant à fondre les déchets radioactifs métalliques a causé un incendie qui a été maitrisé à 13 h. Le bâtiment concerné n’a pas été endommagé. Aucune contamination n’a été constatée : les blessés ne sont pas contaminés et les mesures réalisées à l’extérieur du bâtiment par l’exploitant et les services publics de pompiers spécialisés n’ont révélé aucune contamination.

Phew! Here’s a translation (by me):

The accident this morning at the nuclear facility Centraco near the site of Marcoule (Gard) is over.

The explosion of a furnace used to melt metal radioactive waste caused a fire that was mastered at 13:00 (1:00 pm). The building in question was not damaged. No [radiological] contamination was found; the workers hurt in the accident were not contaminated and measurements taken ​​outside the building by the plant operator and fire fighters showed no contamination.

Despite some coverage that tried to gin this up – as I expect anything that happens at a nuclear facility (and apparently of any type) will be ginned up – this about covers it:

A spokesman for the French power utility E.D.F., which owns the site, said, “It is an industrial accident, not a nuclear one.”

And that’s serious enough. One worker died and one other was badly burned. And E.D.F. will need to figure out what happened. Nuclear facilities are first and foremost industrial plants – very, very safe ones, compared to those of most other industries, but still, industrial accidents will happen.

The Institute of Nuclear Power Operations keeps safety stats (for the U.S.). Here’s INPO’s chart for 2010.

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There wasn’t a lot of attention paid to the safety of nuclear energy facilities during this weekend’s activities commemorating the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Nor should have there been, really, except that  nuclear energy plants gained some attention after the attacks as potential targets. Reporters looking through their archives might have run into one of those stories and tried an update.

But no, not much. Charlie Matthews at the Green Bay Post-Gazette gives it a try:

Sara Cassidy, manager of nuclear communications for NextEra Point Beach, said the industry has spent $1.2 billion and many thousands of hours of training since Sept. 11, 2001, on security enhancements in response to the NRC mandates.

On things like beefed up security:

“We are talking about a paramilitary level of training and expertise to become a security officer at a nuclear power plant,” Mytling said.

She said the so-called “Force-on-Force” drills usually begin at night and continue for three consecutive nights, and plant officials are told when a specific exercise is going to commence. Another full contingent of non-drilling security officers is on scene just in case there was a real attack.

Mytling is Viktoria Mytling, senior public affairs at NRC Region III headquarters (which covers Wisconsin). Though Matthews talks about other ways in which plants are protected from terrorist attack, he focuses on the positive views of local officials:

Kewaunee County Sheriff Matt Joski said he doesn’t think area residents are at risk.

“Their level of security is second to none when it comes to training, equipment and resources,” Joski said.

And:

University of Wisconsin-Madison engineering physics professor Michael Corradini expressed confidence in the security measures adopted by America’s nuclear plants.

“As ‘design-basis’ threats they are very hard targets,” Corradini said. “They really don’t present an enormous concern to the public.”

Not bad – and true, too. Worth a look.

NEI has a section of its site devoted to security. You could consider it the heavy walk.

And the link between nuclear facilities and 9/11? Well, it’s good to know that the plants were made tougher targets. But many of us had other things to think about yesterday, stories to tell, memories. That’s as it should be.

The Marcoule plant.

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