Explosion at French furnace used to melt LLW

September 12, 2011, 5:44PMANS Nuclear Cafe

Authorities report one dead, four injured, one seriously. No radioactivity was released by the event

The French nuclear safety authority Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire (ASN) said in a statement that one person has died and four workers have been injured, one seriously, after an explosion about noon local time on September 12 at the Marcoule nuclear site in southern France. One of the four injured workers is reported to have severe burns.

ASN said in a statement that there had been no radioactive or chemical releases into the environment following the blast. ASN said that according to its initial reports, the explosion was in a furnace used for melting low-level and very low-level metallic radioactive waste.

The furnace was part of Centraco (the center for treatment and conditioning low-level radioactive waste) operated by the waste processing group Socodei.

Response teams and the SDIS (Service Departmental Fire and Rescue) were able to contain the fire, which was brought under control within an hour, ASN said.

The building where the explosion occurred was not damaged. None of those injured were contaminated with radioactivity. ASN said that the event does not involve any radiological issue and no protective actions were required for the population.

The explosion took place at a furnace used for melting low level radioactive metallic waste.

Facility profile

Centraco is owned by Socodei. The installation is dedicated to the treatment and conditioning of low-level radioactive waste, either by melting of metallic waste or by incineration of incinerable waste. The site is about 30 km (18 miles) from the city of Avignon and about 80 km (50 miles) from the Mediterranean coast.

According to World Nuclear News, the items processed at Centraco include used equipment, components, filters and clothing from power plants, universities, research sites, and hospitals. The facility is owned by the EDF subsidiary Socodei and located in the commune of Codolet, adjacent to but separate from the CEA's Marcoule nuclear research site.

WNN reported that the furnace affected was used to to melt scrap metal structural components, pumps, valves and tools made of stainless steel or carbon steel that are lightly contaminated with short-lived and very-low-level radioactivity.

According to WNN, the melting unit has an annual capacity of 1500 tonnes of scrap metal, which can be boosted to 4500 tonnes per year by operating it on a continuous schedule. The metal ingots it produces have a volume around 10 percent of the original scrap and are sent for permanent disposal in at Andra's near-surface facility at Aube.

Created in 1955 in the department of Gard, the Marcoule site combines a research center of the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) and industrial operations for Areva. France's first industrial and military plutonium experiments took place there.

Activities include the production of mixed-oxide fuel, the cleanup and disassembly of nuclear installations, the production of tritium, and the treatment of liquid waste and waste products. None of the other facilities at the site were impacted by today's event.

EDF said in a press release that this is the first time an event of this magnitude has occurred at this site.

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