News / Europe

French Nuclear Explosion Raises Safety Concerns in France

Rescue services evacuate an injured person after an explosion at the Marcoule nuclear waste treatment site killed one person and injured four, southern France, September 12, 2011.
Rescue services evacuate an injured person after an explosion at the Marcoule nuclear waste treatment site killed one person and injured four, southern France, September 12, 2011.
Lisa Bryant

One person died and four people were injured in an explosion at a nuclear waste treatment site in France. The incident occurred as the United Nations nuclear agency begins a week-long meeting on nuclear safety and other major issues, including Iran's nuclear activities.

French authorities describe the explosion at the nuclear treatment facility as an industrial accident and say no radioactive leaks have been detected. The incident comes amid heightened concern about the safety of nuclear energy following the meltdown earlier this year at Japan's Fukushima-Daichi nuclear power plant. But French officials note there is no nuclear reactor at the site in southern France, where the explosion took place.

Nuclear safety also is on the agenda of a week-long board meeting at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. IAEA chief Yukio Amano gave an update on the Fukushima disaster as he opened the meeting on Monday.

"The agency's assessment now is that the reactors are essentially stable. And the expectation is that the cold shutdown of all the reactors will be achieved as planned," said Amano.

The IAEA's 35-member board is expected to approve steps to boost global nuclear safety standards during this week's meeting, although some diplomats reportedly fear the proposed regulations may be watered down. The European Union also has ordered so-called stress tests for all the region's nuclear reactors.

Amano also voiced concerns about Iran's nuclear activities. Western nations suspect Tehran is trying to build a nuclear bomb.

"The agency is increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed nuclear-related activities involving military-related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile about which the agency continues to receive new information," he said.

Amano did say Tehran had been more open about some of its activities during a recent IAEA visit of its facilities. But he said it still needs to provide more information about others. He said he would provide new details backing up his concerns in the near future.

Iran recently has offered international inspectors full supervision of its nuclear activities - but only if international sanctions against the country are lifted. Tehran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful, civilian purposes.

The IAEA board also will discuss North Korea's nuclear program, as well as Syria, which the IAEA suspects of having nearly completed a nuclear reactor that was destroyed by Israel in 2007. Amano said IAEA staff will meet with Syrian officials on the matter in October.

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