France’s Tricastin Nuclear Facility Experiences Uranium Leak

If you are one of the many people who believe that accidents at nuclear facilities are a thing of the past, think again. A friend passed along some information that France’s Tricastin nuclear facility has been temporarily closed after approximately 30 cubic meters (75 kilograms) of liquid containing unenriched uranium spilled from an overflowing reservoir. The liquid seeped into the ground and also reached the Gaffiere and Lauzon rivers.

The Tricastin facility, which is operated by Areva/Socatri, is located at Bollene in the south of France, 40 km from the tourist city Avignon. Tricastin has both nuclear reactors and a radioactive waste treatment plant.

The leak occurred Monday night, but people in the affected areas were not told about the problem until 10:00 AM Tuesday. Sounds eerily like Chernobyl, doesn’t it?

People in nearby towns have been warned not to drink water or eat fish caught in the rivers since Monday. The have also been told not to swim in the rivers or use their water to irrigate crops.

On Wednesday, Socatri carried out tests on the groundwater, three local wells and the rivers and found “no abnormal elements.” French Ecology Minister Jean-Louis Borloo has said there is no imminent danger to the local population.

Tricastin has been temporarily shut down because the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) inspected the facility on Thursday and found that existing prevention measures were deficient. The inspection found that “security steps aimed at preventing any further pollution were not completely satisfactory. Further, inspectors found “irregularities” at the site’s operations at the time of the accident.

This uranium leak may not pose a great risk to the public, but is a strong reminder that nuclear power is not as safe as people think. The scariest thing may be the inspectors finding deficiencies in plant safety three days after the accident. You’d think that plant administrators would have scrambled to make sure safety measures were in place immediately after the accident, if for no other reason than to cover their own butts.

3 Comments

How much actual material was leaked? How many people were injured? How has the leak affected the local population since?

Yes, it is a dangerous practice. But not as dangerous as relying on fossil fuels. The French have the right idea.

Mike

Hi Mike,

Thanks for posting. I think approximately 30.000 liters of uranium solution containing 12g natural uranium/liter leaked out from the Tricastin facility. No people were injured or died (at the plant or nearby community).

I am not aware of any ill affects to the local population since this accident, however, local winegrowers were forced to change the name of their vintage from Côteaux du Tricastin to Grignan because of bad publicity from the nearby Tricastin Plant.

I know people who used to live in Pripyat, Ukraine before the Chernobyl accident and have personally visited the area. I know that safety at nuclear plants has gotten much better since the Chernobyl accident, but the risks are just too great. I may have a narrow view on this topic, but I have friends who have been extremely sick for more than 20 years because of Chernobyl. Some of these people have died or been barely been able to participate in normal everyday activities, much less hold jobs and join in fun activities.

Perhaps my view would be different if I didn't have personal ties to a disaster like Chernobyl. Despite everyone saying that another Chernobyl can't happen, there is always a chance. In addition, there have been many smaller nuclear accidents throughout the years. Any one of these, including this recent problem at Tricastin, could have come very close to causing major problems. Luckily, this didn't happen.

My preference would be to spend money on research into alternative energy sources than continue to rely on nuclear power.

Hi Mike,

I just finished reading about the Tricastin incident in 2008 when I stumbled across your blog.

First of all I’d like to send my condolences to your friends who have suffered the consequences of a similar accident.

Second of all I’m curious as to what further interests you have in Tricastin nuclear plant. Do you follow the plants activity? Do you follow the regular maintenance and outage schedules?

I’m curious because I’m working on a project comparing maintenance initiatives in various power facilities, nuclear being among them. Tricastin caught my eye due to the turbulent history.

Do you have any further information on this plant? Or know who I could contact about such matters?

Thanks

Regards,
Nathalie Connolly