New contamination incident at French nuclear site

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

PARIS (Reuters) - Around 100 staff at a nuclear power plant in southern France were contaminated with a low dose of radiation on Wednesday, power firm EDF said, the latest incident there after a case of uranium spillage two weeks ago.

EDF said in a statement that sensors detected a rise in the level of radiation while maintenance work was being carried out at the Tricastin site's reactor number four, which had been shut since July 12.

The rise in radiation prompted 97 staff to be evacuated at around 9:30 a.m. local time (8:30 a.m. British time) and sent for medical tests.

"Seventy of them show low traces of radioelements, below one fortieth of the authorised limit," EDF said, adding that the incident would not affect the people's health or the environment.

A spokeswoman for the company later said the number of people who were lightly contaminated had risen to 100.

The incident follows another which has shaken confidence in the safety of France's nuclear industry, the biggest in Europe and one which President Nicolas Sarkozy has pledged to expand.

Plant operator Areva said on July 8 that 30 cubic metres of liquid containing non-enriched uranium was accidentally poured on to the ground and into a river at the Tricastin site.

That prompted Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo to order tests at all of France's nuclear power plants to ensure such leaks had not occurred elsewhere.

In the wake of the Tricastin incident, authorities banned fishing and swimming in the affected areas as well as the use of contaminated water.

Nuclear safety authority ASN criticised Areva for its handling of that incident, notably in the way in which it communicated with authorities. It also pointed to unsatisfactory security measures and operational procedures.

EDF said tests were being carried out to determine the cause of the latest incident, adding that the ASN had been informed immediately. Maintenance work at the reactor was also suspended.

(Reporting by Gerard Bon; Writing by Francois Murphy; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Posted in |