Skip to main content

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.


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.


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.


Popular posts from this blog

Making Clouds for a Living

Donell Banks works at Southern Nuclear’s Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 as a shift supervisor in Operations, but is in the process of transitioning to his newly appointed role as the daily work controls manager. He has been in the nuclear energy industry for about 11 years.

I love what I do because I have the unique opportunity to help shape the direction and influence the culture for the future of nuclear power in the United States. Every single day presents a new challenge, but I wouldn't have it any other way. As a shift supervisor, I was primarily responsible for managing the development of procedures and programs to support operation of the first new nuclear units in the United States in more than 30 years. As the daily work controls manager, I will be responsible for oversight of the execution and scheduling of daily work to ensure organizational readiness to operate the new units.

I envision a nuclear energy industry that leverages the technology of today to improve efficiency…

Why America Needs the MOX Facility

If Isaiah had been a nuclear engineer, he’d have loved this project. And the Trump Administration should too, despite the proposal to eliminate it in the FY 2018 budget.

The project is a massive factory near Aiken, S.C., that will take plutonium from the government’s arsenal and turn it into fuel for civilian power reactors. The plutonium, made by the United States during the Cold War in a competition with the Soviet Union, is now surplus, and the United States and the Russian Federation jointly agreed to reduce their stocks, to reduce the chance of its use in weapons. Over two thousand construction workers, technicians and engineers are at work to enable the transformation.

Carrying Isaiah’s “swords into plowshares” vision into the nuclear field did not originate with plutonium. In 1993, the United States and Russia began a 20-year program to take weapons-grade uranium out of the Russian inventory, dilute it to levels appropriate for civilian power plants, and then use it to produce…

Nuclear: Energy for All Political Seasons

The electoral college will soon confirm a surprise election result, Donald Trump. However, in the electricity world, there are fewer surprises – physics and economics will continue to apply, and Republicans and Democrats are going to find a lot to like about nuclear energy over the next four years.

In a Trump administration, the carbon conversation is going to be less prominent. But the nuclear value proposition is still there. We bring steady jobs to rural areas, including in the Rust Belt, which put Donald Trump in office. Nuclear plants keep the surrounding communities vibrant.

We hold down electricity costs for the whole economy. We provide energy diversity, reducing the risk of disruption. We are a critical part of America’s industrial infrastructure, and the importance of infrastructure is something that President-Elect Trump has stressed.

One of our infrastructure challenges is natural gas pipelines, which have gotten more congested as extremely low gas prices have pulled m…