Leak at French Nuclear Plant Recalls Nuclear's Downside

By Eliza Strickland | July 11, 2008 2:29 pm

nuclear power plant FranceUranium leaked from a reservoir at a French nuclear power plant earlier this week, contaminating two rivers near the town of Avignon. People in nearby towns have been warned not to drink any water or eat fish from the rivers since Monday’s leak. Officials have also cautioned people not to swim in the rivers or use their water to irrigate crops [BBC News]. In response to the leak, the French nuclear safety agency ordered the plant to shut down temporarily while it improved safety measures.

The incident sparked a national outrage in France and angered residents and environmental organizations, and distrust has grown after officials downplayed the seriousness of the event. The mishap also has the potential to make people and countries that are now re-embracing nuclear power have second thoughts [Spiegel].

Nuclear energy has recently been promoted by politicians all over the world; presidential hopeful John McCain and the government of Italy have both proposed building new nuclear reactors, and French President Nicholas Sarkozy announced plans for a new reactor just last week. Even some environmentalists have grudgingly declared that nuclear power plants, which don’t emit greenhouse gases, could help replace the coal-fired power plants that are major contributors to global warming.

But some French environmentalists say the response to this week’s accident shows that the nuclear power industry still has to clean up its act. Wastewater containing unenriched uranium spilled from an overflowing reservoir on Monday night, but the incident was only reported to the [nuclear agency] eight hours later, drawing sharp criticism from green groups. The affected residential areas were only informed [in the afternoon] on Tuesday [Reuters].

French officials have tried to reassure the public, saying that the leaked material was not radioactive, although it was toxic. French Ecology Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said on Thursday that there was “no imminent danger” to the local population. Socrati has said tests of the groundwater, local wells and the rivers show they have not been contaminated [BBC News].

Image: flickr/flo21

Related Post: It’s Time for the Nuclear Option, Says McCain

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Health & Medicine
  • http://www.eagle.ca/~gcowan/boron_blast.html G.R.L. Cowan, H2 energy fan ’til ~1996

    France gets the energy of 100 million tonnes of oil per year from 0.007 million tonnes of uranium, but it still also consumes substantial megatonnages of oil and natural gas. These are enormously more expensive than their uranium equivalent.

    Since that enormous additional expense includes, through taxation, the financial maintenance of many French government officials, it would be reasonable for the French public to distrust officials who FAIL TO downplay the seriousness of a natural uranium leak. Could be bad, if the amount were big enough, but if that were true, they would say how much.

    Following the money, we see that the absence of quantitative information means the leak must, in fact, have been inconsequentially small; so small that reporting it would show that the whole story isn’t really news.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/ Eliza Strickland

    I think any accident that reveals poor safety procedures at a nuclear plant warrants coverage, but you’re right, G.R.L., it’s useful to know the amount of material spilled. The parent company, Areva, first reported that 7,925 gallons of the tainted wastewater leaked out, but later lowered that estimate to 4,755 gallons.

  • WWG

    If you can’t swim in it, you can’t drink it, you can’t eat fish out of it and they actually don’t know how much was spilled and what the contents were, can you trust them? This is the standard pattern of late reporting, after the fields were irragated and your tomatoes are radioactive or full of poison. The Nuclear industry has always leaked, then reports later. Plutonium powder was spilled and spread by 20 people in denver. That also wasn’t reported to the public for more then 8 hours and it was done by the people supposedly protecting us. I feel bad for the people contaminated. I don’t trust anyone who say’s Nuclear power is safe! They tell you 8 hours later, your going to die, sorry…. don’t drink the water, eat the fish or the food irrigated by the water. I suppose we can have an alternative… soil and green… Also what is it that their not telling you?

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