Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 47 Number 2, February 11, 2017 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Nuclear safety in the hands of the monopolies

Nuclear Power Plant Explosion in North West France

The Flamanville nuclear power plant operated by energy monopoly Électricité de France (EDF) in North West France, 30 miles from Jersey and opposite the Isle of Wight, was hit by a large blast and fire on Thursday, February 9, when a ventilator exploded in the engine room. People in the locality and workers are reported to be affected by smoke inhalation, though there were no casualties.

The seriousness of the incident is being downplayed and it has received little coverage. In a statement, EDF described the explosion as "minor", dealt with "as per normal procedure", and claimed that "there were no consequences for safety at the plant or for environmental safety."

While officials stressed that it was a technical, not a nuclear incident, Neil Hyatt, professor of radioactive waste management at Sheffield University said: "Any incident of this kind at a nuclear power plant is very serious, and the national and international regulators will want to undertake a thorough investigation to understand the cause and lessons to be learned."

John Large, a respected nuclear engineer, said that the explosion and fire "could have a knock-on effect" because of the "close proximity" of the engine room, steam production and spent fuel stored in nearby ponds.

The incident comes in the wake of a damning investigation last year into the state of EDF's nuclear facilities, which resulted in 13 of its 58 plants being taken offline in December. It is also not the first such incident: in June 2011, the Tricastin plant in Drôme in the Rhône valley was also hit by an explosion and fire, days after authorities had raised a catalogue of 32 safety issues at the plant.

A new third-generation reactor at Flamanville is under construction, set to be the largest in the world. The project has gone massively over schedule and budget, which stands at €10.5 billion; completion is currently expected in 2018, having being originally planned for 2012.

EDF owns and operates the world's largest fleet of civilian nuclear reactors, including eight of Britain's ten nuclear power stations. The monopoly is currently on course to build three new reactors in Britain, at Hinkley Point C in Somerset, Sizewell C in Suffolk and Bradwell B in Essex.


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