With all the darkly comedic inevitability we’re coming to expect from France’s foremost nuclear ‘experts‘, the news of the leak at Areva’s Tricastin nuclear plant has been followed fast by news of another leak at the company’s Romans-sur-Isère site.
According to the ASN nuclear safety authority, the fault in the pipe that caused the leak may have been several years old. Which would suggest that safety inspections at Romans-sur-Isère are not all they should be. How can a pipe carrying radioactive material be allowed to be faulty for years? It makes you wonder what Areva employees homes are like…
Areva employee’s wife: ‘Darling, the washing machine is leaking.’
Areva employee: ‘OK, I should be able to fix it in several years.’
You wouldn’t tolerate a pipe in your house leaking just water let alone uranium but Areva are much more relaxed about these things. If Areva were plumbers they’d repair your leaking pipe for you just before you drowned.
The ASN said there had been ‘no impact at all on the environment, because the quantity of uranium was very small, in the order of a few hundred grammes’. The spokesman refrained from using the magic ‘only’ but it was ‘only’ a few hundred grammes of uranium.
We can only hope they’re right but as we’ve seen with the slow drip, drip, drip of more and more information (a bit like an Areva pipe) coming out about the leak at Tricastin, it doesn’t do to accept these things at face value. And there’s been no mention of any effects on the two plants’ workers.
We can only hope they are more fortunate than the workers at the Hanford nuclear reservation caught in a leak at the plant last month. They suffered ‘respiratory problems, upset stomachs, headaches, dizziness, eye irritation and blurred vision’. The contractor running the plant (having the dubious distinction of being the most contaminated nuclear site in America) said it did not believe ‘workers were exposed to enough chemicals to be harmed’. They obviously work to a definition of ‘harmed’ than the rest of us.
You only have to witness the struggles (physically, legally and financially) of American nuclear workers chasing compensation for the terrible damage wreaked on their bodies by radiation to see that this isn’t an industry with people’s best interests at heart.
Why was the damaged pipe at Romans-sur-Isère left for years until the leak became serious enough to report? Whose interests were being served in ignoring it? Lazy or incompetent employees? Areva with its eye on costs, profits and the bottom line? Whoever it was, are they really the kinds of people we want supplying our electricity? Is this the kind of energy we want? Especially when clean energy sources exist.