nuclear waste
Nuclear waste is stored to ship for disposal. In France, it would be heading to a treatment facility like the one at Centraco. Image: Argonne National Laboratory/Flickr/CC BY-SA

A nuclear waste site located in southern France was rocked by an explosion Monday that killed one and injured four others. Nothing radioactive was leaked in the incident, agency officials say. France depends on nuclear power more than any other country in the world.

One dead and four injured

The incident occurred at approximately 12:37 p.m. local time at the Centraco nuclear site in the Languedoc-Roussillon region near the Mediterranean Sea. An exploding oven is believed to be the cause of the accident that took one life, seriously burned one and less-seriously injured three others.

Explosion led to fire

The explosion also started a fire. According to the Nuclear Safety Authority, the fire was out and the situation was under control within the hour. The agency also stressed that no radiation leaks have been detected in the wake of the incident.

The agency said, in a statement:

“According to initial information, the explosion happened in an oven used to melt radioactive metallic waste of little and very little radioactivity. There have been no leaks outside of the site.”

Low-grade radioactive material

Officials from the EDF power company, the parent company of the company that operates Centraco, were quick to point out that there is no nuclear reactor at the site. The site, the company says, is mainly used to treat low-level radioactive materials from EDF’s power plants, as well as some medical research and hospital waste. None of it,  company spokesperson Carole Trivi said, comes from weapons manufacturing,

The Nuclear Safety Authority also said that the plant personnel acted in accordance with written safety procedures. No quarantine or evacuation was required.

Most nuclear-dependent nation in the world

France depends more heavily on nuclear power than any other country in the world. Approximately 80 percent of theFrance’s power is provided by its 58 working nuclear power plants. French facilities also treat nuclear waste from around the world.

The March 11 tsunami in Japan that decimated the Fukushima nuclear plant reignited the debate over the safety of nuclear power. Germany shut down eight of its older reactors following the March disaster. But France has continued to hold strong in its support of the industry. French president Nicolas Sarkozy last June pledged to stand by the nation’s plan to invest $1.37 billion into more nuclear power plants.

Treating nuclear waste

In the U.S., nuclear waste is stored in pools or in dry casks. Some believe it should be processed for re-use as is done in France. But U.S. scientist Ed Lyman said that nuclear processing plants create large amounts of low-level waste. He pointed to today’s incident in France as a reminder of the danger of dealing with even those low-level radioactive materials.


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