France says no leak in deadly nuke plant blast

Posted at 09/12/11 10:06 PM

CODOLET, France - The French government sought to play down fears of a radioactive leak after the explosion Monday at a nuclear site in the south of France in which at least one person died.

France's state nuclear regulator had said earlier that there was a risk of a leak after the blast at Codolet in the Rhone Valley near the southern city of Nimes.

Despite killing one person and wounding at least four more, the blast "did not cause any radioactive leak", a spokesman at the energy ministry said.

National electricity provider EDF confirmed the initial death toll following the explosion in an oven at the site. One of the injured is in a serious condition, France's Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) said.

The blast hit the Centraco nuclear waste treatment centre belonging to EDF subsidiary Socodei, said a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Commissariat (CEA).

"Initial reports suggest there was an explosion in an oven used to melt metallic low- and very low-level radioactive waste," the ASN said.

An EDF spokesman said: "This is an industrial accident, not a nuclear accident."

"In this kind of oven, there are two sorts of waste: metallic waste such as valves, pumps and tools and combustible waste such as technicians' work outfits or gloves," the spokesman said.

"The fire started by the explosion is under control."

A security perimeter has been set up around the installation, firefighters said, without being able to provide further details.

The interior ministry said that no one was evacuated from near the site nor were any workers confined following the blast.

Those injured "have not been contaminated" and the fatality was caused by the explosion, the ministry said.

Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciuscko-Morizet was due to arrive at the site on Monday afternoon, her ministry said, "to help carry out a precise evaluation of the possible radiological impact of this accident".

"For the time being, no exterior impact has been detected," a source at the ministry said.

"There are several detectors on the outside and none of them detected anything, the building is sound," an advisor at the ministry told AFP, adding that "we do not yet know what caused the blast".

The site is around 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the historic city of Avignon which is thronged with tourists at this time of the year.

EDF's share price dropped over six percent on the news of the blast.

France said in June it would invest one billion euros ($1.4 billion at the time) in future nuclear power development while boosting research into security.

France produces most of its energy from nuclear power. Some countries, notably its EU neighbor Germany, have rejected nuclear power after the Fukushima reactor disaster in Japan.