French authorities keep water ban after nuclear leak
Marseille, France (AFP) July 9, 2008
Residents in southern France were told not to drink water or eat fish from rivers on Wednesday following an uranium leak at a nuclear plant that Germany's junior environment minister said was "not a trivial matter."
French nuclear safety officials said Tuesday's leak at the Tricastin nuclear plant in Bollene was not as serious as previously thought, with some 75 kilogrammes (165 pounds) of untreated liquid uranium spilling into the ground.
Officials had originally said 360 kilogrammes had leaked when liquid was transfered from one container to another on the site of the nuclear installation run by Socatri, a subsidiary of French nuclear giant Areva.
German state secretary for the environment Michael Mueller said the incident should not be taken lightly.
"It is not a trivial matter when active uranium seeps into the ground," Mueller said in Berlin, adding that the German government had asked France for information on the incident.
French officials banned the drinking of water, fishing and the consumption of fish in three rivers and three ponds. Swimming and water sports were also forbidden as was irrigation of crops with the contaminated water.
The ban went into effect on Tuesday and officials from the Vaucluse regional administration said the measures would remain in effect for the time being.
Ecology Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said a full safety inspection had been ordered for Thursday and that the ban would be lifted once test results confirm there is no danger from radiation.
Borloo also said "all the necessary conclusions will be drawn in terms of possible criminal and administrative action" in a statement issued Wednesday.
Part of France's popular Provence summer tourist destination, the Vaucluse draws legions of holidaymakers to its picturesque towns.
Socatri said tests carried out on the ground water, three wells belonging to local residents and the rivers had shown "no abnormal elements."
But Charles-Antoine Louet, from the Nuclear Safety Authority ASN, said abnormal radioactive levels had been detected in rivers and lakes in the Vaucluse region although these were decreasing.
The incident at Tricastin ranked as a level-one incident on the seven-point scale to rank nuclear accidents.
One of France's 58 nuclear plants -- the world's second largest network of atomic energy sites after the United States -- Tricastin is located some 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the city of Avignon, which is currently hosting a major theatre festival.
French anti-nuclear group Sortir du nucleaire (End nuclear power) accused Areva of withholding information about the spill and "deliberately putting the population at risk."
The director of the ASN nuclear safety agency, Jean-Christophe Niel, told a Paris news conference that Socatri took 12 hours to assess the scale of the uranium leak.
"We will carry out an inspection and impose sanctions if necessary," said ASN president Andre-Claude Lacoste.
The independent commission on research and information on radioactivity (CRIIAD) said it would lodge a legal complaint in the coming weeks against Socatri and another Areva subsidiary over what it called lax safety procedures.
The CRIIAD said the leak followed four other incidents in April, August and October and in November 2007 at the Tricastin site, which has a nuclear reactor as well as a radioactive treatment plant.
The group said some 770 tonnes of nuclear waste had been buried for the past 30 years on the Tricastin site and called for a full decontamination of the area.
The 75 kilogrammes of untreated uranium amounts to 6.26 cubic metres of liquid containing 12 grammes of uranium per litre, according to Socatri.
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Marseille, France (AFP) July 8, 2008
An accidental spillage of waste containing uranium occured Tuesday at one of France's top nuclear plants but authorities said there was no immediate cause for concern, authorities said.
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