Wednesday, September 14, 2011

More on Accident at Marcoule Nuclear Waste Processing Site in France: Furnace Had Many Problems Before

as reported by Kyodo News. Interestingly, if you go to Kyodo News site the article is not there. It was carried by several local/regional papers but in print only, as far as I know.

Rough translation from the original Japanese article, as appeared in Kumamoto Nichinichi Shinbun (9/15/2011):

French nuclear facility: Explosion took place right after the restart of the furnace operation

Employee says "The melting furnace broke down last week"

(Kyodo News-Paris) Regarding the explosion that took place on September 12 at the low-level radioactive waste treatment center (CENTRACO) in Marcoule in southern France, it was revealed that the melting furnace that exploded had broken down last week, and it was restarted on the day of the accident. French papers including Le Figaro reported it on September 14 as information from the sources in the French prosecutor's office who interviewed the employees at the center.

According to the employees testimony, the melting furnace, which is used to melt low level radioactive waste like workers' gloves, protective clothes and metal pumps, was stopped last week after "numerous problems" had been detected. The operation resumed in the morning of September 12, but metals weren't melted well. When an employee tried to break the lump using a stick-shaped object, the molten metal spewed from the lump, causing the explosion.

French prosecutors are set to start investigation on death and injury by negligence in a few days.

From the beginning of the accident, the French media had pointed out the possibilities of heated metal coming in contact with water, or of some chemical reaction taking place near the furnace as the cause of the explosion.

However, the prosecutors say, "To promote further melting using an equipment is a well-known procedure, even if it not practiced widely", indicating they haven't ruled out other possibilities.

According to the major French TV network TF1, the area around the furnace remains in high temperature and no one can approach anywhere near it, and the prosecutors and the French nuclear control bureau haven't made much progress in their investigation.

Le Figaro's article on September 13 had these details:

  • Furnace was set at 1,500 degrees Celsius but the metal didn't completely melt;

  • The employee tried to break the molten mass with a crowbar ("barre à mine").

Oh boy. Crowbar?

But just as TEPCO has the manual for the outside world and the "real" manual(s) for the workers to follow, breaking the molten metal blob with a crowbar probably is part of the "real" manual at the French plant.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Think Windscale. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Svbtz9rihU

Is this a case of:
1) "Operational error" - i.e. lack of safety oversight
2) Worker practicing manual workaround for some design / operational deficiency
3) Bogus story about operational error - system/process is working, just human error (nothing to worry)

Anonymous said...

barre à mine = heel bar, not crowbar ("pied de biche")

Anonymous said...

Sounds like Germany's failed THTR-300 thorium pebble bed reactor. A fuel pellet got stuck and a employee dislodged with an improper tool (rumored to be a broom stick)causing an accident. If Chernobyl hadn't happened a few days before overshadowing the event everyone would know about it.

"An experimental THTR-300 PBMR located in Hamm-Uentrop, Germany was touted as the beginning of a a "new generation"� of accident resistant reactor design. After the Chernobyl accident and graphite fire the West German government disclosed that on May 4 the 300-megawatt PBMR at Hamm released radiation after one of its spherical fuel pebbles became lodged in the pipe used to deliver fuel elements to the reactor. Operator actions to dislodge the obstruction during the event damaged the fuel pebble cladding releasing radiation into the environment. Radioactive fallout was found as far as two kilometers from the reactor due to the PBMR inherent lack of containment in its design. The fallout in the region was initially blamed on the Chernobyl accident, which happened nine days earlier. Scientists in the Freiburg area reported that as much as 70 % of the region's contamination was not of the type released from the Chernobyl disaster, it was due to other sources. An attempt to conceal the reactor malfunction combined with mounting public pressure due to the recent Chernobyl accident caused the German government to order the reactor closed pending a review. Continued technical problems resulted in the unit's full closure in late 1988. The government refused further funding in lieu of decommissioning the reactor."

(source: http://www.environment.co.za/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=1225)

Anonymous said...

The link in the post above is dead perhaps a German reader has a better source.

INHERENTLY SAFE" GERMAN PBMR COVERS UP RADIATION ACCIDENT AND SHUTS DOWN

http://www.nirs.org/factsheets/pbmrfactsheet.htm

Anonymous said...

Philippe here,
crow, crow, lol.
I think there is a technical word for this kind of tools used at furnaces, but the Figaro is a daily paper and used the word "barre à mine" that is probably wrong but understandable to the everyday reader.
Nothing to do with workers "manuals" here.
I like your blog, Ultraman, but you might be more cautious interpreting what happens far away from the US and Japan.
For instance you had an old post making a fuss about a "french bureaucrat" who made a scandal about cars parked the wrong way during a meeting at the "Assemblée Nationnale" about the nuclear accident.
But this man, Maxime Gremetz, is not a bureaucrat, he's a politician, a very professional communist provocateur. He has his strategy against the powers that rule our country, and it often leeds him into beeing the rogue guy. And he is quite successfull !
Farewell.

Anonymous said...

".. but you might be more cautious interpreting what happens far away from the US and Japan."

Nah, not really, humans are humans, and ex-SKF certainly understands them.

U b trumped, Philippe!

lol

Anonymous said...

No doubt French are different and superior.

Viola said...

@anon 6:30 AM

Wikipedia, english version
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/THTR-300

german version
http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kernkraftwerk_THTR-300

Here, they are a bit more precise about "some radioactive dust was released to the environment":
It all happened when Chernobyl just took place, so everybody took Chernobyl for rising radioactivity. In the end, they found out that during the week from 4/28 to 5/4. 1986 two third of the amount had been released that was legal for 180 days.

Another german PBMR was Jülich:
http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/AVR_%28J%C3%BClich%29
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AVR_reactor

Decommision costs for tax payers:
Jülich 600 Mio. € for partly decommissioning until 2015; decommissioning of the vessel 60 years after that, costs not even estimated yet.
Hamm-Uentrop: 1 Mrd. € (in 2011)

No idea yet for both where to deposit the waste that has to be stored in a final storage that doen't exist...

Atomfritz said...

Bad news from Southern France:

"French Report: Radioactivity 10 times normal in Avignon — Cause of “anomalous increase” could be directly linked to explosion at Marcoule"

Please read detailed article including links to French sources here: http://enenews.com/french-report-radioactivity-10-times-normal-avignon-anomalous-increase-radioactivity-could-be-directly-linked-explosion-marcoule-chart

The big german PBMR accident indeed happened just after Chernobyl, so it was easy to cover-up.
The only site I know of that goes into the uncanny details of the accident and the cover-up is a local activist site, that got inside information from workers: www.reaktorpleite.de

The primary circuit will be entombed for many decades as it is completely clogged with high active fuel and fission product dust.
PBMR is by far the dirtiest reactor type ever built...

Viola said...

Here's the link to the french site:
http://www.spiritsoleil.com/nonaunucleaire/sud-est/index.php?post/2011/09/12/Incident-nucl%C3%A9aire-%C3%A0-Marcoule-%3A-1-mort%2C-des-bless%C3%A9s-et-des-radiations

Here are the measures:
http://www.spiritsoleil.com/nonaunucleaire/sud-est/public/photos/Gard/2011-09-12_incident-Marcoule_mesure-radioactivite.jpg

Translation:
"Measures of radioactivity 9/12/2011 at Vaucluse/Gard/Herault
Used equipment: Counter Geiger-Müller Quartex. Detection of X-rays, gamma and beta-particles.Indication between 0-999 MicroRem/hour. Measurement cycle 30-38 seconds. 1 MicorRem = 10 NanosSievert

Columns from left to right:
Place/hour/level in MicroRem per hour/highest level/normal level

Tricastin nuclear power plant is not far away, as well as the famous wine-region Châteauneuf-du-Pape. One of the most beautiful regions of France, in my opinion; had my holidays there one wek ago...
The French used to have their launching pads for nuclear weapons there during the Cold War. They were supposed to stop the Russians in Germany.

Anonymous said...

@Atomfritz

Thank you for the THTR-300 reaktorpleite link strangely enough at first I got a 404 error but I Googled the term reaktorpleite and the same address you posted worked through Google. (I think my computer is possessed sometimes)

Google translate excerpt:

"The incident in May 1986, the whole incident was first denied by the operating company HKG then admitted 'very carefully' and finally they fought over the amount of leaked radiation, because the meter was indeed shut down and there was now no exact data. Only bit by bit the truth came to light, only just as much as could not be denied."

That last part sounds like every nuclear accident I've ever heard described. First comes total denial of emissions then admissions of releases with the ubiquitous "small amount, everything's OK." Eventually it comes out that there was inadequate radiation detection at the time of the accident because of equipment failure, malfunction or simply "oops we forgot."

I also found this at the reaktorpleite site it seems the HTR program has a critic in Dr. Rainer Moormann. (@ Viola Dr.Moormann talks about Jülich too)

THTR Newsletter No. 136 July 2011

"Whistleblower Prize for THTR critic Moormann"

"Citizens' Environmental Initiative Hamm congratulated Aachen scientist Dr. Rainer Moormann the awarding of the prize awarded every second year Whistleblower 2011, he has received along with an anonymous person who the video "Collateral Murder" published on Wikileaks."

Atomfritz's mention of "French Report: Radioactivity 10 times normal in Avignon — Cause of “anomalous increase” if true it would just be par for the course. It looks to me like the French government is desperate to keep the public behind their national nuclear program they intend on opening their nuclear plants to the public as part of an annual “heritage” event.

"Sept. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Every year at a weekend-long “heritage” event, France throws open doors to centuries-old castles and monuments. This year, for the first time, the list will include an unusual entry: nuclear plants.

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-09-15/france-opens-doors-to-nuclear-sites-to-woo-public-post-fukushima.html

Adam Thomas said...

Nice blog.. keep up the good work !

Accidents Direct

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