The EDF-owended Flamanville 1 reactor on France's Normandy coast experienced a radioactive leak late on October 24th. Although downplayed by the French nuclear authority, a French watchdog group based near Flamanville received direct reports from workers, who described a very close call that almost cost three plant workers their lives. The unit had been shut down since the end of July for refueling. Around 42,000 liters of 300°C radioactive water escaped from a primary cooling circuit, contaminating the reactor building. Flamanville has two operating reactors, with the third, an EPR design, still under construction but way behind schedule and over budget.
France gets nearly 80% of its electricity from its 58 reactors. However, such a heavy reliance on nuclear power brings with it many major, unsolved problems, most especially that of radioactive waste. Despite assertions to the contrary, the French nuclear story is far from a gleaming example of nuclear success.
Harvey Wasserman, editor of Nukefree.org and author of Solartopia, has written a blog inspired by the announced closure of the Kewaunee atomic reactor in Wisconsin. He begins by stating 'The US fleet of 104 deteriorating atomic reactors is starting to fall. The much-hyped "nuclear renaissance" is now definitively headed in reverse.'
He points out that Kewaunee may be but the first domino to fall, describing the impact of "low gas prices, declining performance, unsolved technical problems and escalating public resistance" at numerous other old, age-degraded, troubled reactors across the U.S. But Harvey also points out the momentum applies as well as overseas, in the wake of Fukushima, not only in Japan, but also India, and even Europe, led by Germany's nuclear power phase out.
Referring to the new French Areva "European Pressurized Reactors" (or EPRs), under construction in Europe and proposed in the U.S., Harvey writes that "projected cost estimates for new reactors soar out of control---here [in the U.S.], in Finland, France and elsewhere."
He adds "A proposed French-financed reactor for Maryland has been cancelled thanks to a powerful grassroots campaign. Any other new reactor projects will face public opposition and economic pitfalls at least as powerful."
Harvey, a senior advisor to Greenpeace USA and Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), will address "From Fukushima to Fermi-3: Getting to Solartopia Before It's Too Late" in Dearborn, MI on Dec. 7th at the official launch event for the new organization, the Alliance to Halt Fermi-3.
The oldest operating French nuclear power plant, at Fessenheim near the German border, suffered a chemical explosion on September 5 that sent 8 workers to the hospital, two of them with steam burns. This was just the latest set-back for the French nuclear sector which is struggling to maintain a presence overseas but saw its Evolutionary Power Reactor (EPR) all but canceled at the Calvert Cliffs, MD site on August 30. Fessenheim sits on the banks of a river and on an active fault line and has been the object of consistent and large opposition to its continued operation (Colmar rally in 2009 pictured). At first alarm, it was believed a fire had broken out as 50 firefighters were dispatched to the site, operated by EDF. Later, it was described as a chemical explosion that released "non-radioactive" steam. The newly-elected French president, François Hollande, said he would shut the Fessenheim plant during his five-year term which most observers believe means at the end of it, in 2017. Furthermore, his energy minister, Dauphine Batho, has been quoted recently describing nuclear energy as "necessary" and the "energy of the future" causing a flurry of critical and often derisory articles and commentaries in the French media.
From news reports: Electricite de France SA, operator of the country’s 58 nuclear reactors, has six years to complete about 10 billion euros ($12 billion) of measures to boost safety after Japan’s Fukushima atomic meltdown, the regulator said.
Autorite de Surete Nucleaire today published deadlines for measures including employing equipment such as diesel generators and bunkered control rooms, and guarding against flooding.
An estimate by state-owned EDF that the measures will cost about 10 billion euros “is not improbable,” Andre-Claude Lacoste, head of the watchdog, told reporters today.
“No one can ever guarantee that a nuclear accident will never happen in France,” he said. “We may need 10 years to completely understand what happened at Fukushima.”
Unfortunately, the approach in France appears to be likely futile (and expensive) efforts to "fix" safety issues rather than move toward a nuclear shutdown like Germany.
Newly-elected French President, François Hollande, has confirmed the forebodings of French anti-nuclear activists by coming out in favor of hastening the start of a new uranium mine in Niger. The mine at Imouraren would be the largest uranium mine in the world. Extraction was due to begin around 2013-2014 with an annual production of anything between 3,000 and 8,000 metric tons of uranium. Hollande was quoted as being favorable to moving up the start of production.