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Fukushima’s final emergency

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Art to honour the Fukushima 50. Illustration by 'tiger-never-die' at deviantart.com

Art to honour the Fukushima 50. Illustration by ‘tiger-never-die’ at deviantart.com

After 29 months of grave nuclear threat, all that matters now is for the world’s experts on radiation and decontamination to join forces and help fix the deadly poison streaming silently out of Fukushima. Because Japan’s political class has betrayed its people and lied to the world.

The world’s nuclear industry, the agencies of the principal nuclear powers, the reactor manufacturers and their lobbyists and financiers must cease their talk and stand aside, for they have been dealers of slow death. Now it is time for every reactor in the world – every single last nightmare nuclear pile – to begin shutting down.

This is a matter serious enough for the UN General Assembly to call an extraordinary and emergency session, and for the agenda to have two items only: (1) the immediate containment of the poison spewing out of the crippled reactors in Fukushima must be an international undertaking, (2) the safe, total and irrevocable decommissioning of all the world’s nuclear reactors must begin at once.

There is no other way. The events August 2013 alone tell us why:

Technicians work to address leaks from a tank storing highly radioactive water at the wrekced Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on Aug. 20. Photo: The Asahi Shimbun/Hiroshi Kawai

Technicians work to address leaks from a tank storing highly radioactive water at the wrekced Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on Aug. 20. Photo: The Asahi Shimbun/Hiroshi Kawai

August 23, 2013 – More tanks at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant site may have leaks as Tokyo Electric Power Company, the plant operator, said on August 22 that high radiation levels were detected near a second section of storage tanks.

August 21, 2013 – Japan’s nuclear authority said on August 21 that a radioactive water leak at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant represents a “serious incident” under an international scale, the latest blow in the struggle against contaminated water accumulating at the site.

August 19, 2013 – The operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant said on August 19 that two workers were found to be contaminated with radioactive particles, the second such incident in a week involving staff outside the site’s main operations centre.

August 14, 2013 – The Nuclear Regulation Authority, Japan’s nuclear regulator, officially approved a plan that lays out ­in detail everything from the broad road map that Fukushima Daiichi operator Tokyo Electric Power Company is following to clean up and dismantle the crippled plant.

Clean up and dismantle – but even the tiniest mistake during an operation to extract over 1,300 fuel rods at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan could lead to a series of cascading failures with an apocalyptic outcome, fallout researcher Christina Consolo told the news website RT.

Fukushima operator TEPCO wants to extract 400 tons worth of spent fuel rods stored in a pool at the plant’s damaged Reactor No. 4. The removal would have to be done manually from the top store of the damaged building in the radiation-contaminated environment.

Radioactive water contamination graphic by Asahi Shimbun

Radioactive water contamination graphic by Asahi Shimbun

In the worst-case scenario, a mishandled rod may go critical, resulting in an above-ground meltdown releasing radioactive fallout with no way to stop it, said Consolo. But leaving the things as they are is not an option, because statistical risk of a similarly bad outcome increases every day, she said. Indeed, renowned theoretical physicist Michio Kaku stated in an interview a few weeks after the initial accident that “TEPCO is literally hanging on by their fingernails.” They still are, and always have been.

As Safecast’s blog has explained in educative detail, it is unclear whether the Japanese government has a clear plan for decontaminating Fukushima Prefecture. The questions raised are worrying indeed: “Are the aims they’ve stated really feasible? Is anyone really able to keep track of the changing standards and guidelines?” And that is why the Asahi Shimbun published a series of reports about changes in government decontamination plans, such as ‘Government secretly backtracks on Fukushima decontamination goal’. This is a situation tailor-made for abuse, and in January 2013, the Asahi Shimbun published a series of exposes detailing sloppy work practices and fraud, titled ‘Crooked Cleanup’.

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France nuclear emergency Marcoule

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Update5: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has two articles relevant to the Marcoule explosion. In ‘Regime change for nuclear security’, two important questions are asked about the status and safety of fissile materials.

World map of nuclear states and countries with fissile materials (France in focus). Graphic: Fissile Materials Working Group

Irma Arguello, founder and chair of the Nonproliferation for Global Security Foundation (NPSGlobal), a private, nonprofit initiative; and international partner of the Fissile Materials Working Group, has written in the article that the term ‘nuclear security’ covers a vast swath of issues, including the prevention of, detection of, and response to criminal acts involving nuclear materials, radioactive materials, and facilities associated with nuclear and radioactive materials. Unsurprisingly, an intricate constellation of international instruments – mostly voluntary and nonbinding – is used to reduce the risks of nuclear terrorism and to reduce the illicit trafficking of nuclear materials and technology. Some of these are:

The Doomsday Clock that is the logo of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. It is six minutes to midnight

The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials, enforced since 1987.
The 2005 International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.
The 2003 Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources and its supplementary, Guidance on the Import and Export of Radioactive Sources of 2004.
The 2004 UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which calls on states to take “adequate and effective” measures to prevent terrorism and proliferation.
The 2001 UN Security Council Resolution 1373.
The 2009 UN Security Council Resolution 1887, which assesses threats to global security derived from terrorism.
The Proliferation Security Initiative of 2003, focused on the interdiction of suspicious materials related to weapons of mass destruction during transport.
The 2002 G-8 Global Partnership, which uses fund-raising to support safety, disarmament, and nonproliferation projects.
The 2006 Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, an information-exchange initiative.

The aggregation of such tools, together with individual nations’ own laws, comprise the current nuclear security regime – a regime of overlapping efforts and initiatives, overwhelming bureaucratic burdens, a host of voluntary and nonbinding “commitments,” challenges to efficiency, a lack of authority to deal with transgressions, and a lack of consensus on key issues (like sovereign rights versus multilateral control). So, given the enormity of the nuclear security complex, how internally coherent is the nuclear security regime? More important, can it cope with current and future challenges?

In the second article, ‘Nature and malice: Confronting multiple hazards to nuclear power infrastructure’, Igor Khripunov and Duyeon Kim make several interlinked points. These are: (1) as the IAEA has suggested, the lessons of Fukushima that need particular study are “those pertaining to multiple severe hazards” that might afflict a nuclear power plant; (2) such complex hazards can emerge from natural disaster, sabotage by terrorists or other malcontents, or be a combination of natural events and intentional acts; (3) nuclear safety and security staffs – whose cultures are quite different – should be trained to interact with one another as they respond to all three types of severe hazards.

Update4: There is a critical note emerging in the French media about the Marcoule nuclear fuel plant explosion. Le Figaro has run a longish report quoting ecologists in France who are demanding ‘transparency’ from the Sarkozy government on the incident: “Marcoule : les écologistes réclament la transparence”.

In translation, Le Figaro has said that Cécile Duflot, national secretary of the Greens Europe Ecologie (EELV), said on the iTV Energy Minister Eric Besson “makes fun of the world when he said that the explosion of a furnace that burns waste irradiated is not a nuclear incident or accident. “The boss of EELV also the responsibility of leading authorities in the flow of information. “This is not to the public or local officials to seek information, it must come from the authorities and in real time,” insists Cécile Duflot. “We need people living around nuclear facilities and the whole country are aware of plans to be implemented in case of accident.”

The Association France Nature Environnement does say it is  “not surprised” by the accident of Marcoule. “It must be remembered that in France there are three reported incidents per day in the nuclear industry, and we know that this area tends to under-report such incidents,” said BFM-TV Benoît Hartmann, the spokeswoman the association. It also reviews the difference between incident and nuclear accident.

Picture taken in June 2009 of operators dismantling one of the rooms of the plant in Marcoule. Photo: AFP PHOTO/CEA/Celine Jandaureck

On the government side, Minister for Ecology Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet was expected in the late afternoon on the Marcoule site. According to his office, she will participate in “an accurate assessment of potential radiological impacts of this accident,” knowing that “no impact on the outside has been detected.” Information confirmed by the director of plant safety at the IRSN (institut de radioprotection et de sûreté nucléaire) on LCI.

The well-known daily Le Monde has reported that after the accident in Fukushima, the explosion near the French nuclear site is “a further illustration that an accident is unfortunately possible. It’s beyond our means,” said Corinne Lepage, former Minister of environment and President of CAP 21, on her Twitter account. “How many accidents, explosions, human dramas before starting the transition energy and finally ask the people if he is willing to take risks?” asked the Left Party in a statement.

Before stating: “Get away from the nuclear! Other energy choices are possible, we can not wait!” The Association France Nature Environment also said in a statement that “this new accident highlights the problems of risk control and nuclear technology in France.” “Without prejudice to the extent” of this accident, “we see that nuclear accidents at Chernobyl or Fukushima. Even in the Gard we are not immune,” said Catherine Grèze. She said “it is urgent to rethink our energy policy and nuclear power, to move towards a policy that does not pose a sword of Damocles over the heads of our citizens.”

The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) has assured that there was “no discharge outside” following the explosion that took place in a waste treatment facility operated by Socodei, a subsidiary of EDF. “‘No radioactive release according to the CEA…But who can still rely on such statements,” said Denis Baupin, assistant ecologist at the town hall of Paris, in a message broadcast on his Twitter account.

Satellite image of the Marcoule fuel plant site

Actu-Environnement, a news website for environmental scientists, technicians and development workers, reported that the fatal accident on the central processing of radioactive waste in Marcoule (Gard) has revived, if there was need to, the debate on nuclear power. “The government procrastinate by talking of an industrial accident. The site was under increased surveillance since 2008.” Given the finding of “gaps in the safety culture within the installation Centraco, the ASN has been led in 2008 to seek strong commitments to the operator.

ASN has found, through its inspections and analysis of a succession of events in the installation, failure of control operations and coordination, insufficient knowledge of the safety standard by operating personnel and a lack of safety culture within the facility,” stated the ASN in its report on nuclear safety in 2008. Eleven incidents with a level 1 were found in 2008. Thus, the operator [Areva through its subsidiary, see below] to set up an action plan. “In a new meeting between the ASN and CEO Centraco held in late 2010, the ASN asked for real ownership by the operator of its action plan to improving the safety and commitment at management to implement safety”.

Update3: Unlike the operation of nuclear reactors, the ‘back end’ – spent fuel reprocessing – is inconspicuous. The public know little about these plants, the kind of materials that pass through them, the safety measures they need, the hazards they represent. The nuclear industry likes to keep it that way. The nuclear industry is a worldwide club of nuclear technology suppliers, power companies, regulators and administrators. They work under several layers of secrecy and obfuscation, most of these depending on technical and scientific sophistry. This is part of what makes this club so dangerous.

In France, the way this club operates has been doubly dangeous because local anti-nuclear groups have hardly been heard, their small influence in no way comparable to the powerful French nuclear lobby and its mighty propaganda machine. Until Fukushima, decades of nuclear brainwashing had succeeded in making the population, if not supportive, at least passive and resigned, and accepting of the widely-spread myth of climate-friendly nuclear power. That has changed, slowly but perceptibly. The Marcoule explosion of 2011 September 12 will change it further.

Until more information is released through official sources or through the network of anti-nuke campaign groups, here is useful background information on the Marcoule plant, its operator Areva and its lousy safety record.

The MELOX plant, an Areva subsidiary, is the world leader in the market for the fabrication of recycled nuclear fuel (MOX). it makes 46% of the world’s Mixed Oxide fuel (MOX). To support business development, Areva has said, the MELOX plant, with a production capacity of 195 metric tons per year, launched a three-year investment plan at the end of 2009 to increase production capacity and flexibility, in particular to meet demand for “multi-design/multi-customer” fuel fabrication. Approximately 850 employees work at the site, in addition to nearly 400 indirect jobs. Areva expects the workforce to rise to 900 employees by 2015.

Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication – world total 420 tons (metric tons of initial heavy metal MTIHM/year)

Country – Owner/Controller – Plant Name/Location – Capacity [MTIHM/year]
BelgiumBelgonucléaire SADessel (closes July 31, 2006) – 37
FranceAreva NCCadarache (somewhat closed) – (40)
FranceMELOX SA (100% Areva NC) – Marcoule195
IndiaDAE Nuclear Fuel ComplexTarapur50
JapanJNCTokai-Mura10
United KingdomBritish Nuclear Fuels, LtdSellafield128

Areva nuclear power operations. Source: Areva annual report

Incidents/Events in the last five years at the MELOX MOX fuel fabrication plant, Marcoule (Gard, France):

1. Contamination incident at MELOX MOX fuel plant – On June 28, 2011, a mechanical failure of an assembly bench caused a radioactive contamination event at the fuel assembly stage of the MELOX MOX fuel plant. Seventeen workers could return to their workplaces after medical checks. The event was rated level 1 on the INES scale. (ASN July 5, 2011)
2. MELOX SA new owner of MELOX MOX fuel plant – On Sep. 3, 2010, the Ministry of Ecology approved the ownership change of the MELOX Marcoule plant from Areva NC to MELOX SA, a 100% owned subsidiary of Areva NC. (Journal Officiel Sep. 5, 2010)
3. Worker contaminated in glove box accident at MELOX fuel fabrication plant – On Feb. 9, 2010, a worker was contaminated when the glove box he was using was damaged in an accident. The worker was transfered to a specialized medical service in the Paris area. The event was rated level 1 on the INES scale. (ASN Feb. 11, 2010)
4. MOX fuel lots mixed up at MELOX fuel fabrication plant – On Oct. 20, 2009, three baskets carrying MOX fuel pellets were mixed up at the Marcoule MOX plant. The error was not detected until Oct. 29, 2009. ASN rated the incident level 1 on the INES scale. (ASN Nov. 6, 2009)
5. Violation of criticality rules at MELOX MOX fuel plant – On March 3, 2009, the amount of fissile material located in a working station exceeded the permissible limit by 1%. No criticality occured, as the limit is set at half the amount required to initiate a criticality. Areva had initially rated the event level 1 on the INES scale. In view of the violation of several safety requirements that led to the event, the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) changed the rating to level 2 on the INES scale. (Areva March 4, 2009; ASN March 19, 2009)
6. Spill at Marcoule waste water treatment plant – On July 17, 2007, three cubic meters of waste water with a specific activity of approx. 40 Bq/cm3 spilled inside the building; only some dozen litres reached the outside of the building. The event was rated level 1 on the INES scale.
7. Violation of criticality rules at MELOX MOX fuel plant – On May 29, 2007, an automatic transport cart carrying plutonium oxide was permitted to enter an already loaded working station. No criticality occured. The incident was rated INES 1. (ASN July 9, 2007)
8. Government authorizes further capacity increase for MELOX MOX fuel plant – On April 26, 2007, Areva received government approval for the requested capacity increase of the MELOX MOX fuel plant from 145 to 195 tHM/a. (Areva April 27, 2007)
9. Public Inquiry into further extension of MELOX MOX fuel plant – On Feb. 2, 2006, the Vice Minister of Industry announced the start of the public consultation process regarding the increase of capacity from 145 to 195 tHM/a. The public inquiry was held from April 18 to June 17, 2006.
[Source: WISE Uranium Project]

Areva's graphical description of its nuclear technologies and fuels cycle. Source: Areva 2010 Reference Document

According to Areva, MOX fuel (Mixed Oxide fuel) is a mixture of approximately 93% depleted uranium powder and 7% plutonium oxide powder. Areva is the world leader in the manufacture of MOX fuel with almost 1,570 tons of heavy metal (tML) and more than 3,000 assemblies produced since the Areva MELOX plant was put online in 1995. In 2009, approximately 139 tons of MOX were produced worldwide, 134 tML of which at the MELOX plant, representing a market share of around 95% for Areva.

Areva’s 2010 Reference Document said: “The production of MOX assemblies is handled by the MELOX plant at the Marcoule site (France – Gard region). The world leader on the MOX market, the AREVA MELOX plant has grown its capacity since 2003 in order to meet increased demand. Annual licensing therefore moved from 145 tons of heavy metal to 195 tons in 2006. Since the Areva Cadarache plant ceased production in July 2003, Areva has brought together MOX production in its MELOX plant.”

We can see clearly the links to the USA and Japanese nuclear industries from these statements in the Areva 2010 Reference Document: “In France, 21 reactors have been technically adapted to cope with this type of fuel. These reactors produce around 7% of the national electricity production. EDF licensing requests for using other reactors are pending. Japan plans to use MOX fuel in 16 to 20 reactors by 2010. A MOX fabrication plant with a capacity of around 130 tons/year is in the planning stages for the Rokkasho-Mura site. Operated by JNFL, it will benefit from an Areva technology transfer. In the United States, in partnership with the Shaw Group and on behalf of the US Department of Energy (DOE), Areva is pursuing the construction of an MFFF plant (Mixed Fuel Fabrication Facility) to manufacture MOX using plutonium of military origin.”

Update2: There’s still little official news being released by France’s government and nuclear authorities on the Marcoule reprocessing plant explosion. The word from the N-safety organisations is as follows: (1) the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has in a new statement said that the explosion occurred in a furnace used for the treatment of low level radioactive waste; (2) according to [French nuclear agency] ASN, the main radionuclide present in the waste materials in the oven is cobalt-60. Autorité de sûreté nucléaire (ASN) has confirmed that there has not been any release of radioactivity from the site and that there is no prospect of any release. According to ASN, the incident has ended. The cause of the explosion is currently unknown and is under investigation.

These statements have not helped inform a Euro and global public fearful of new nuclear disasters, just six months after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami wrecked the Fukushima nuclear power plant. A look at this twitter trendmap shows why.

The Guardian has commented that the Marcoule accident came just a week after the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, bucked the anti-nuclear trend following Japan’s Fukushima disaster and pledged €1bn (£860m) of new investment in atomic power. Despite growing worldwide concern about the safety of nuclear plants – Germany has announced it is phasing its nuclear plants out — Sarkozy said the moratorium on new nuclear reactors adopted by some countries since the Japanese nuclear crisis in March “makes no sense”. “There is no alternative to nuclear energy today,” he told journalists at the time. “We are going to devote €1bn to the nuclear programme of the future, particularly fourth-generation technology.” He also promised “substantial resources” to strengthen research into nuclear safety and a further €1.3bn investment in renewable energy.

Greenpeace has urged the French government to ensure local people are kept fully up to date with the situation and the potential radioactive releases. “Information is still emerging and we do not know the cause of the explosion, but it serves as yet another tragic reminder of the dangers of nuclear power and the urgent need for governments to follow the lead taken by Germany in phasing it out.” It should be noted that this installations on the Marcoule site has not been included in the stress tests of nuclear facilities requested by the French government, nor in the last inspections by the Nuclear Safety Authority.

Authoritative background on the huge Marcoule plant is to be found in the documentation by the International Panel on Fissile Materials. “France initiated a spent nuclear fuel reprocessing program to provide plutonium for its nuclear weapons program in Marcoule in 1958. Later, the vision of the rapid introduction of plutonium-fuelled fast-neutron breeder reactors drove the large-scale separation of plutonium for civilian purposes, starting with the opening of the La Hague plant in 1966, financed under the military and civilian budgets of the Atomic Energy Commission (Commissariat à l’Énergie Atomique, CEA). This effort initially was supported broadly by neighboring European countries who contributed to the French fast breeder project and, along with Japan, signed up for French reprocessing services in the 1970s.”

Workers at the Marcoule Nuclear Plant. Photo: TPM Idea Lab

France’s first reprocessing plant was the Usine de Plutonium 1 (UP1, Plutonium Factory 1) at Marcoule. Thirteen thousand tons of reactor fuel from gas-graphite plutonium production and power reactors was reprocessed there between 1958 and late 1997. Today the site hosts a huge decommissioning and clean-up effort. In 2003, the clean up, including waste management, was estimated to eventually cost about €6 billion ($6 billion) and is currently expected last till 2040. In 2005, these costs and liabilities were transferred from the government-owned nuclear-services conglomerate, AREVA NC, to the CEA.

The two reprocessing sites, La Hague and Marcoule, contain over 90 percent of France’s radioactive waste inventory. Their inventories include spent fuel, separated plutonium, large quantities of liquid and vitrified high level waste, and various types of intermediate, transuranic and low level radioactive wastes. A significant fraction of these wastes remains unconditioned. Conditioning techniques have been under development for decades. In view of changing standards, much of the waste that was conditioned between the 1950s and the 1970s will have to be reconditioned. [This information has come from the International Panel on Fissile Materials, Spent Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing in France (2008 April)]

Update1: The first images about the Marcoule explosion have become available, thanks to MaxiSciences. See the photostrip below (captions in French and translated English). Not surprisingly, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), still has not even a mention of the problem on its website. The IAEA doesn’t have Fukushima on its main page either. The ‘Atoms For Peace’ agency, set up 54 years ago “to promote safe, secure and peaceful nuclear technologies”, has a lot of catching up to do.

Voici les premières images de la centrale nucléaire de Marcoule où a eu lieu ce matin un accident meurtrier. (L) Des employés prennent des mesures par sécurité, (M) Les photographes ne peuvent pas dépasser un certain périmètre, (R) Un homme réalise des mesures de la radioactivité. (L) Employees take safety precautions, (M) Photographers are stopped from entering the area, (R) A man measures radioactivity. Photos: MaxiSciences

Sciencemag has reported that on its home page, France’s Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) says that no radioactivity appears to have leaked from the site. The plant, called Centraco, is owned by Socodei, a daughter company of French energy giant EDF (Electricite de France SA). According to Socodei’s website, Centraco “processes scrap metal in its melting plant and combustible waste in its incinerating plant. … The objective is to reduce waste volume, recycle whenever possible, and condition the remainder as ultimate waste packages accepted by the French national agency for radioactive waste management (ANDRA).”

Location of Marcoule. Graphic: Ladepeche.fr

News reports coming in about the explosion at Marcoule, southern France, are still sketchy. One death and several injuries are reported. France’s nuclear safety agency ASN (Autorité de sûreté nucléaire) has issued a short early statement to say there is no radiation threat. This is to be taken as a pre-emptive statement. As we know from the terrible record of nuclear power the world over, the Marcoule falout will become clear in the next days and weeks. [see the detailed Fukushima page and running post].

Reuters has reported that one person was killed in an explosion at the nuclear site of Marcoule in southern France, France’s ASN nuclear watchdog said on Monday, but there was no leak of radioactive material. Marcoule is a nuclear waste management site that does not include any reactors. The explosion took place near a furnace, an ASN spokesperson told Reuters.

Electricite de France SA (EDF) is described in the European bourses as a France-based integrated energy operator active in the generation, distribution, transmission and supply of energy services. It generates energy using nuclear technology, as well as thermal, hydroelectric and other renewable sources. The company is involved in energy generation and energy sales.

Early news in the French press:

Ladepeche.fr – Gard. Un mort dans l’explosion d’un four sur un site nucléaire: Un four a explosé, ce lundi, sur le site nucléaire de Marcoule dans le Gard, entraînant la mort d’un homme et en blessant quatre, dont un grièvement. Alors que la préfecture et les pompiers craignaient une fuite radioactive, l’Autorié de sûreté nucléaire (ASN), EDF et le ministère de l’Ecologie précisent que l’accident n’a provoqué aucune fuite, ni chimique, ni radioactive.

Nuclear centres in France. Graphic: Le Monde

Le site de Marcoule est un centre de traitement de déchets d’une filiale d’EDF. L’incident a eu lieu vers 11h45 dans le centre Centraco, de la société Socodei, a déclaré un porte-parole du Commissariat à l’énergie atomique (CEA). “Pour l’instant, il n’y a pas de rejets à l’extérieur”, a-t-il ajouté. Il a également signalé qu’un périmètre de sécurité a été mis en place en raison des risques de fuite, ce que dément le Midi-Libre.

Europe 1 – Gard : explosion sur un site nucléaire

Le Monde – Explosion d’un four et risque de fuite radioactive sur le site nucléaire de Marcoule

BBC News has provided some useful background on Marcoule – the site is one of the oldest in France, and played a significant role in the development of the French nuclear and thermonuclear deterrents. It opened in 1956 – well after the US began the era of nuclear armaments, at a time when France was among the nations looking to gain their own seat at the nuclear table.

The earliest reactors generated first data and then plutonium for the first successful French test in 1960. Other defence-oriented reactors followed – and as the world contemplated a new generation of much bigger bombs with much bigger destructive capacity, a new reactor at Marcoule was built to produce tritium, fuel for hydrogen (or thermonuclear) weapons. On the civilian side, the site also housed the experimental Phenix fast-breeeder reactor, and – since 1995 – it has combined fissile uranium and plutonium into mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, which can be used in nuclear power stations.

The Marcoule site dates back the dawn of the French nuclear age. Photo: BBC News

CBC has reported that the Marcoule site does not include any nuclear power reactors. It is involved with the decommissioning of nuclear facilities, and operates a pressurized water reactor used to produce tritium. The site is located in the Gard region of France, in Langedoc Roussillon, near the Mediterranean Sea. Midi Libre, a local paper in Montpellier, near the site, says the explosion occurred at 11:45 a.m. local time.

The report said one person was seriously injured and has been airlifted to a hospital in Montpellier. Three others were taken to a local hospital. No evacuation notice was given to the local area but a security perimeter around the site has been established, according to reports.

World Nuclear News has a short item – details of the event come from the French nuclear safety regulator, the ASN. It said that the incident occurred at the Centraco facility where low-level radiaoctive wastes is prepared for packing and disposal. This includes items such as equipment, filters and clothing from power plants, universities and hospitals. The facility is operated by Socodei, part of the EDF group. ASN said that its preliminary information was that the furnace used to melt lightly contaminated scrap metal had suffered an explosion. Its first assessment was that one worker was killed and four more injured, one of those seriously.

Nuclear centres in France. Graphic: Ladepeche.fr

RFI English has reported the French government as having said that there are no signs of a radiation leak after a blast at the Marcoule nuclear site in the Rhone Valley on Monday. At least one person died and four more were injured following the explosion of a furnace used to melt down radioactive material. One of the injured is said to be in a critical condition.

Bloomberg cites a spokeswoman for France’s Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet having confirmed that there has been an explosion and said that the minister will visit the site. France’s ASN nuclear safety watchdog said that it will make a statement on the incident. France, which has more nuclear reactors than any other European country, is carrying out safety checks on atomic installations to evaluate dangers from earthquakes and flooding.

News reports two months ago said that the UK is relying on EDF to build the first nuclear power stations for a generation in Suffolk and Somerset by 2018. However, suspicions are growing that EDF is preparing to delay Britain’s new plants substantially, having said it will issue a “revised timetable” for the UK in the autumn. It was understood by the British media that British officials are now working on the assumption that new nuclear will not arrive in the UK until after 2020. The reports had said costs in France have already doubled and construction is severely delayed at EDF’s flagship plant in Flamanville, which will be its first new plant in more than 15 years. Back when construction started in 2006, EDF thought it would cost just €3.3bn (£2.9bn) and take under five years to build. Until last year, EDF was still insisting that Flamanville would be ready by 2012.

Three months after Fukushima – hot particles, rotten fish and studied whitewash

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A coastal community in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture is flooded by tsunami waters after a massive earthquake off Japan's east coast on March 11. Photo: Mainichi

A coastal community in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture is flooded by tsunami waters after a massive earthquake off Japan's east coast on March 11. Photo: Mainichi

How far will the culpable go to deny the dangers of atomic energy, even when confronted with the evidence day after day for three months? Far enough to shock us over and again, every single one of those days. There has been melt-through – not just meltdown – at Fukushima, widespread contamination by radiation of water, the ifrst medical evidence of the impacts of airborne radiation, and still the nuclear industry and its political partners deals out lies. They do this even when the humanitarian crisis of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami continues.

A variety of news reports have said that the Tokyo metropolitan government has decided to take radiation readings at 100 sites around the city and to measure at ground level and near ground level. The city was previously taking readings only from a 19-meter high monitoring station in Tokyo. The action was prompted after citizens began finding higher readings that those released by the city government.

ABC news has reported: “Highly toxic radioactive strontium has been found in groundwater near the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. It is the first time the substance has been detected in groundwater near the plant’s No. 1 and No. 2 reactors. The operator of the Fukushima plant has also confirmed strontium up to 240 times the legal limit has been found in seawater near the facility. Strontium tends to accumulate in bones and can cause bone cancer and leukaemia. “Last week, soil samples from outside the Fukushima plant also revealed concentrations of strontium.” Fukushima city officials say they will distribute radiation readers to 30,000 children between the ages of four and 15. News reports vary as to when the children will receive the badges.

[See the Japan nuclear emergency page for an archive of news reports, analyses, videos, gtaphics and links on the Fukushima nuclear emergency, and the shorter posting on the nuclear plant crisis.]

A woman looks at the damage caused by a tsunami and an earthquake in Ishimaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, after the magnitude 8.9 earthquake struck the area March 13, 2011. Photo: Reuters/Yomiuri Shimbun

A woman looks at the damage caused by a tsunami and an earthquake in Ishimaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, after the magnitude 8.9 earthquake struck the area March 13, 2011. Photo: Reuters/Yomiuri Shimbun

The Japanese government has prepared a report on the accident at the Fukushima I nuclear power station (NPS) of Tokyo Electric Power Co., Inc. (TEPCO) and submitted it to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on June 7. According to the Denki Shimbun the findings will be reported at the IAEA ministerial conference due to start on June 20. The 750-page report outlines several facts and observations including the developments of the accident, Japan’s nuclear safety regulatory framework, radiation exposure situations and lessons learned from the accident, and states at the conclusion that “Japan has recognized that a fundamental revision of its nuclear safety preparedness and response is inevitable.” As part of plans for the fundamental revision, the report declares that the Japanese government will separate the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and start reviewing the administration of nuclear safety regulations.

The report consists of 13 themes. In the introduction, it points out that “the situation has become extremely severe” in dealing with the Fukushima I accident, due to the circumstances where the accident had to be dealt with in parallel with reconstruction work following the disaster caused by the great earthquake and tsunami. The report also includes an apology in relation to the nuclear accident, stating, “Japan sincerely regrets causing anxiety for people all over the world about the release of radioactive materials.”

In ‘Silent Crisis in Tohoku’, Ex-SKF and Tokyo Brown Tabby have said that with the rainy and typhoon seasons approaching and temperature rising, there are serious concerns that infectious diseases might spread in the earthquake/tsunami-struck areas. From what? Rotten fish. When the earthquake and tsunami destroyed the refrigerated storage and processing facilities for fish, the fish started to rot.

Japanese medical personnel check a child for radiation exposure in Fukushima City. Photo: Guardian/EPA

“Conditions are already bad for the residents and evacuees in Tohoku: lots of dust rising from debris and rubble; awful smell of wet and mouldy piles of wooden debris and tatami mats; awful smell of sludge; and now awful smell of rotten fish (mostly from many devastated seafood processing plants) and smell of bird faeces feeding on those rotten fish; and finally the threat of mosquitoes as summer approaches, as well as rats and cockroaches.”

“They have been spraying insecticides and deodorizers in vain, since huge amounts of rotten seafood products are still under piles and piles of rubble. Unless all the debris and rubble, rotten fish and all that are completely removed, there is no stopping the hideous smells and mass breeding of those pests that could transmit diseases.”

On June 12, on a night news program called “Mr. Sunday” (Fuji TV), it was reported that more than 20,000 temporary houses have been built, but only about  45% of them are occupied, because once evacuees move to these temporary houses, all the food supply would be cut off and they would have to pay for utilities even though many of them are still unemployed. In one city in Miyagi Prefecture, the number of drunk driving has doubled, since alcoholism has increased due to mental depression.

Last week, Japan’s government announced a shake-up of the country’s nuclear regulatory agencies that would separate NISA from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which is also responsible for promoting the nuclear industry. The World Socialist Web Site has said that these cosmetic changes will do little to alter the incestuous relationship between Japan’s regulators and energy giants like TEPCO. There is a well-worn path trodden by senior NISA and METI officials from the state bureaucracy into corporate boardrooms. NISA’s response to the latest revelation that eight TEPCO employees had received radiation doses above the legal limit was typical. The agency described the situation as “extremely regrettable” and issued a formal warning to TEPCO—in other words, a slap on the wrist, as it has done on previous occasions.

Anti-nuclear demonstrators march in Cologne, western Germany Saturday March 26, 2011 to protest against nuclear power. Poster in front reads: Fukushima warns: Pull the Plug on all Nuclear Power Plants. White banner behind reads : 'Solidarity with the people in Japan'. Some 200,000 people turned out in Germany's largest cities on Saturday to protest against the use of nuclear power in the wake of Japan's Fukushima reactor disaster, police and organizers said.

The cover-up is not confined to Japan, however. On June 1, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued an interim report on the Fukushima disaster that listed the most obvious deficiencies in TEPCO’s safety measures but had nothing but praise for the official response. It said the government, regulatory agencies and the company had been “extremely open” in sharing information. TEPCO management at the site had been “exemplary” under arduous conditions. The government’s protection of the public had been “impressive and extremely well organised”.

The purpose of this IAEA whitewash was elaborated quite openly by deputy director general Denis Flory, who told the media: “There is a need to rebuild the confidence of the public towards their government, when their governments have decided to use nuclear energy.” Like Japan’s regulatory authorities, the IAEA is intimately bound up with the nuclear industry, which is expanding internationally and is tasked with regulating energy giants that are driven by profit, not the welfare of ordinary people.

In the US, physician Janette Sherman MD and epidemiologist Joseph Mangano published an essay that talks about a 35% spike in infant mortality in northwest cities that occurred after the Fukushima meltdown, and may well be the result of fallout from the stricken nuclear plant. The eight cities included in the report are San Jose, Berkeley, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Cruz, Portland, Seattle, and Boise, and the time frame of the report included the ten weeks immediately following the disaster.

“There is and should be concern about younger people being exposed, and the Japanese government will be giving out radiation monitors to children,” Dr MV Ramana, a physicist with the Programme on Science and Global Security at Princeton University who specialises in issues of nuclear safety, told Al Jazeera. Dr Ramana explained that he believes the primary radiation threat continues to be mostly for residents living within 50km of the plant, but added: “There are going to be areas outside of the Japanese government’s 20km mandatory evacuation zone where radiation is higher. So that could mean evacuation zones in those areas as well.”

Arnold Gundersen, who has 39 years of nuclear power engineering experience, managing and coordinating projects at 70 nuclear power plants around the US, points out that far more radiation has been released than has been reported. “They recalculated the amount of radiation released, but the news is really not talking about this,” he said. “The new calculations show that within the first week of the accident, they released 2.3 times as much radiation as they thought they released in the first 80 days.” According to Gundersen, the exposed reactors and fuel cores are continuing to release microns of caesium, strontium, and plutonium isotopes. These are referred to as “hot particles”.