Greenpeace activists protesting against EPR in Flamanville, Northern west France.
Greenpeace activists protesting against EPR in Flamanville, Northern west France.

Several accidents happened in French nuclear plants in July. Greenpeace France has subsequently filed two complaints against Areva, the French state-controlled nuclear giant.

Tough month for French nuclear plants… On July 8, the Areva nuclear site of Tricastin (southeastern France) leaked about 30 cubic meters of uranium-rich water. Result: 30,000 liters of this uranium solution trickled into the ground and polluted small rivers around the plant area. The local authority said there wasn't any danger for the environment but "by way of precaution" fishing, sailing and swimming in the affected area are banned. On July 18, in another Areva nuclear site (Romans-sur-Isere, southeastern France), a leak from a buried pipe was detected and the French safety authority said the fault could date back to several years. An Areva spokesman said the leak did not spread outside the site and had "absolutely no impact on the environment". The French Energy and Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo even attempted to reassure people by explaining that there are more than a hundred of this kind of "little anomaly" every year in France.

On July 23, Tricastin strikes again. During a reactor outage for maintenance, sensors detected an air contamination. The reactor was shut down, emptied of its fuel and the building evacuated. Verdict: 100 workers were contaminated. Despite this, EDF (the French Energy supplier) claimed the incident would not affect people's health or the environment.

July 29. Another unfortunate incident at Tricastin: more than 120 workers were evacuated after an alarm was set off. Fortunately, it was a false alarm and the precautionary tests carried out on 45 employees detected only "very weak" traces of contamination on two of them. The Nuclear Safety Authority said these traces dated back to the previous incident.

So, let's do a tally. Two leaks, more than 100 contaminated workers and a false alarm in just three weeks. And this for a sector in which safety is paramount (mostly for its PR). "Officially" (in other words classic assurances from the industry) there are no risks either for the environment, the workers or the inhabitants. But realistically, these accidents reveal the true nature of French nuclear issue. France owns and runs about 60 nuclear reactors out of 415 worldwide. 80% of electricity supplied in France comes from nuclear plants and President Sarkozy does everything possible to sell nuclear plants all over the world.

In terms of the future, most of the French nuclear plants are getting old and becoming more and more dangerous. Plus, Sarkozy announced last month that a second EPR plant would be built next year in France. He didn't specify where, but he did attempt to justify his decision by saying that the "petrol-for-everyone-era was over and that nuclear energy was more than ever a sustainable industry and an indispensable energy".

In order to find out what really happened in those nuclear sites, Greenpeace France has launched two court cases against Areva for causing water pollution and depositing waste illegally. "How many accidents need to happen before authorities get it through their heads that there is no such thing as a safe nuclear facility?" asked Bunny McDiarmid of Greenpeace NZ.. "Unfortunately those hurt in these accidents join an already crowded history of contaminated communities, lands and waters that will dog the nuclear industry for a very long time into the future."

A survey last month showed that two thirds of the French population supports nuclear technology because they think it makes France energy-independent. You can't blame them; this is the line used by government and industry. But it's simply not true. 100% of the uranium used in France is imported. The priority should be to make these people realize how dangerous the nuclear industry is and particularly how it can affect everyone. "A guaranteed safe nuclear facility is as realistic as a flying pig," Bunny added.