French nuclear industry shaken by string of accidents

In the third incident this month at a French nuclear plant, 100 employees were “slightly contaminated” July 23 at the Tricastin plant in the southern Vaucluse region, according to the EDF power company. EDF insisted the exposure was well below legal limits and the incident rated at “level zero” on the seven-point nuclear accident scale. But the Commission de Recherche et d’Information Indépendantes sur la Radioactivité (CRIIAD) said the legal annual limit for exposure to radioactivity was not “a level at which risk begins but a level of maximum permitted risk.” Annie Thebaud-Mony, a researcher at France’s INSERM medical research institute, said that “emphasising that the accident is minor…is a way of downplaying the fact that the employees are exposed to radioacitivity.”

On July 8 people living near the Tricastin site were told not to drink water or eat fish from nearby rivers after liquid uranium from the plant polluted the local water supply. On July 18 nuclear safety authorities said a broken pipe at Romans-sur-Isère plant in the Drôme region had caused a radioactive leak but no damage to the environment.

After that incident, French safety authorities and the nuclear construction giant Areva admitted that security for France’s 58 nuclear plants needs revamping. France has the world’s second largest network of nuclear reactors after the US, relying on the nuclear sector for more than 80 percent of its electricity. Areva is at the forefront of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s quest to export French nuclear technology around the world. EDF is on the verge of a multi-billion-dollar deal to take over British Energy. (The Scotsman, July 25; AFP, July 24; The Guardian, July 19)

Note that the cited accounts confuse the terms “plants” and “reactors.” The World Nuclear Association indicates that France has 59 reactors in 19 plants.

See our last post on France and the nuclear threat.