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Blast rocks nuclear plant in France

Written By krishna on Monday, September 12, 2011 | 7:28 AM

Explosion rocks French nuclear facility

A nuclear plant in Marcoule in southern France suffered an explosion earlier today.

According to France's Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), the explosion at the plant occurred in a furnace used for melting radioactive scrap metal. Earlier reports from the BBC suggested the fire occurred in a storage space for radioactive waste. The explosion reportedly killed one person. There are conflicting reports on the number of people injured, ranging from three to four at this point.

Local news site Le Midi Libre was first to report on the story.

The Marcoule plant is a major site for nuclear activities. According to the BBC, it doesn't have any reactors, but does produce mixed oxide fuel (MOX) by recycling the plutonium found in nuclear weaponry. The plant also is used to create tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, the CBC says.

Earlier this morning, there was some fear that a radioactive leak could occur at the Marcoule site. However, according to the CEA, the fire occurred "on the edge of the center" of the facility, and was brought under control. Measurements of radioactivity suggest that there has been no leakage outside the facility.

The fire in the Marcoule facility is likely to reinforce concerns about nuclear power, following the Fukushima incident earlier this year. Following a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami, Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant became the focus of the global debate over the viability of nuclear power. In that incident, several reactors started to overheat, and workers exposed to dangerous levels of radiation helped to prevent a more far-reaching catastrophe.

In April, the crisis at Fukushima hit a near-record level, when the severity of the disaster was pushed from a 5 to 7, the highest rating on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES). The 1986 Chernobyl disaster was also a 7 on the INES.

The Fukushima crisis spurred countries around the world, France included, to reassess their preparedness for a similar problem with their own nuclear plants. Over the last several months, France has engaged in testing of its plants to determine whether they are safe from potential disasters.

Exactly how the Marcoule fire will affect France's attitudes towards nuclear plants remains to be seen. According to information from the World Nuclear Association, an organization representing people who work in the nuclear profession, 75 percent of France's electricity is powered by nuclear energy. The country is also the "world's largest net exporter of electricity," thanks to its affinity for nuclear energy.

The International Atomic Energy Agency did not immediately respond to CNET's request for comment on the matter.

Updated throughout the morning with new details.

Don Reisinger

Read more: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13506_3-20104743-17/explosion-rocks-french-nuclear-facility/#ixzz1XkTK9y1F
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