French nuclear power station leak - UPDATE
In July of 2008, 18,000 liters (4,755 Gallons) of Uranium solution containing natural uranium were accidentally released. Due to cleaning and repair work the containment system for a uranium solution holding tank was not functional when the tank filled. The inflow exceeded the tank's capacity and 30 cubic meters of Uranium solution leaked with 18 cubic meters spilled to the ground. Testing found elevated uranium levels in the nearby Gaffière and Lauzon rivers. The liquid that escaped to the ground contained about 75kg of unenriched uranium which is toxic as a heavy metal while possessing only slight radioactivity. Estimates for the releases were initially higher, up to 360kg of natural uranium, but revised downward later. 
French authorities have banned the use of water from the Gaffière and Lauzon for drinking and watering of crops. Swimming, water sports and fishing were also banned.
This incident has been classified as Level 1 on the International Nuclear Event Scale. More than 100 workers were contaminated by this leak.
link to www.worldnuclear.org
French nuclear firm admits uranium leaks at two plants
* Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
The French nuclear giant Areva yesterday confirmed there was a radioactive leak from a broken pipe at a nuclear fuel plant in south-eastern France, a week after a uranium spill at another of its plants polluted the local water supply.
The latest incident comes as an embarrassment to the French government as it struggles to contain environmentalists' anger and reassure residents near its nuclear plants that they are safe.
Earlier this week the government ordered safety tests on the water table around all of France's 59 nuclear reactors. Areva is at the forefront of President Nicolas Sarkozy's quest to export French nuclear technology around the world, including to Britain. France is one of the world's biggest atomic energy nations, generating more than 80% of its electricity from nuclear power.
The newly discovered leak at a plant in Romans-sur-Isère in the Drôme region came from a damaged pipe which safety authorities said might have ruptured a number of years ago. Areva, a state-controlled firm which makes nuclear reactors and deals with uranium, said the leak came from a buried pipe transporting liquid uranium and that the crack in the tubing was "several years old".
France's nuclear safety authority, the ASN, said the leak did not reach the ground water and that there was no sign of contamination. It said initial tests showed no impact on the environment because the quantity of uranium was very small, around a few hundred grams.
Areva is also responsible for running the Tricastin power plant, in the nearby Vaucluse area, where a uranium leak occurred last week when a tank was being cleaned. Drinking well water, swimming and water sports in the area were banned, as well as irrigating crops with the potentially contaminated water. Both leaks ranked as a level-one incidents on the seven-point scale of nuclear accidents.
The ASN criticised Areva for the handling of the Tricastin leak, saying it delayed communication of the problem and its security measures were unsatisfactory. After admitting the safety lapse, Areva this week sacked the director responsible for the site and announced an internal audit.
River use banned after French uranium leak
Residents in the Vaucluse, a popular southern French tourist destination, were banned yesterday from drinking well-water or swimming or fishing in two rivers after a uranium leak from one of France's nuclear power plants.
Nuclear officials yesterday revised down the amount of untreated liquid uranium that spilled from the Tricastin nuclear power centre in Bollene, saying it was limited to 75kg and ranked grade one on the one-to-seven scale of nuclear accidents. But the spillage of waste material containing uranium in the picturesque area of Provence, 30 miles from Avignon, which is currently hosting an arts festival, embarrassed the government.
Nicolas Sarkozy has prioritised exporting nuclear expertise worldwide, including to Britain. Nuclear power comprises 87% of France's electricity production, but yesterday anti-nuclear groups renewed their criticisms of the nuclear power policy.
The leak occurred when a tank was being cleaned between Monday night and Tuesday morning but was not detected until yesterday. Around 30 cubic metres of liquid containing uranium, which was not enriched, leaked out of a tank. Of this, 18 cubic metres poured on to the ground and into the nearby Gaffiere and Lauzon rivers, which flow into the Rhone. The plant has been operational since 1975.
Vaucluse authorities banned drinking well-water, fishing and eating fish from the rivers as well as swimming and water sports and irrigating crops with potentially contaminated water. One swimmer among 100 bathers asked to immediately vacate a local lake said it was as if there had been sharks in it.
Officials from the Socatri safety agency, a subsidiary of nuclear giant Areva, said groundwater, wells and rivers had shown no effects yesterday. The nuclear safety authority said radioactive levels detected in rivers and lakes in the region were decreasing.
The prefecture of Vaucluse said the leaked uranium should only be found in very small quantities and the risk was low but the ban on drinking, fishing and swimming would continue.
Germany's Social Democrat environment minister, Michael Müller, whose party is opposed to nuclear energy, said yesterday that the incident should not be taken lightly. "It's no trifle when active uranium penetrates the soil," he told Agence France Presse.
The French environmental group, the Committee for Independent Research and Information on Radioactivity, said that the radioactivity released into the environment was at least 100 times higher than the fixed limit for that site for the entire year.
Greenpeace International nuclear campaigner, Aslihan Tumer, said: "Given the restrictions on the consumption and use of water in the area, it is clear that the leak poses a risk to the local population and to the environment."
This article appeared in the Guardian on Thursday July 10 2008 on p21 of the International section. It was last updated at 10:10 on July 10 2008.
contribute to this article
add comment to discussion