French Nuclear Watchdog Sought Safety Improvements at Blast Site
The French atomic regulator repeatedly sought safety improvements at a nuclear-waste processing site owned by Electricite de France SA before this week’s explosion that killed one person and injured four.
An investigation into the Sept. 12 accident at the Centraco plant in southern France “will show whether it had to do with the safety lapses we uncovered,” said Jean-Christophe Niel, who heads the Autorite de Surete Nucleaire, or ASN.
The plant in the town of Codolet wasn’t previously shut down because the ASN “felt the situation was moving in the right direction,” Niel said today at a Paris press conference.
The explosion and fire at the low-level nuclear waste processing site spurred calls for France to toughen safety tests begun in the aftermath of Japan’s Fukushima atomic disaster.
The accident happened just three days before EDF, operator of the country’s 58 reactors, and other operators of atomic sites were due to report back to the ASN on their ability to withstand emergencies such as earthquakes, floods and cuts to power and cooling systems.
The Centraco plant wasn’t included among the 80 “priority” sites for which safety audits will be carried out by the regulator before the end of the year.
Socodei, the EDF unit that operates the site, was aiming to expand operations because of the need to treat increasing amounts of waste from reactors, according to the ASN’s 2010 annual report. The plant incinerates or melts waste including low-level radioactive metals.
The watchdog called in the head of Centraco in November 2008 to discuss safety “gaps” and progress was noted at the end of last year in improving the situation, the report states.
The agency said today it had asked for a plan to improve safety at the site in 2008 and carried out nine inspections there in 2009, five in 2010 and five this year, including one surprise visit during the night of May 31.
The ASN has put online letters and documents about prior incidents that include surpassing limits on the amount of radioactive effluents from the plant and malfunctioning fire and radiation detectors. Following the surprise inspection in May, the ASN asked Socodei to improve its ability to cope with potential accident situations.
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