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Explosion at French nuclear site kills 1

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: The blast could affect the U.S. debate about spent nuclear fuel, an expert says
  • A furnace explodes at the Marcoule nuclear site in southeastern France
  • There is no radioactive leak, electricity company EDF says
  • France relies on nuclear power for about 80% of its energy

Paris (CNN) -- A furnace exploded Monday at a nuclear site in France, killing one person and injuring four, a spokeswoman for French energy company EDF told CNN.

There was no radioactive leak or waste released, she said. The French nuclear safety agency also said there had been no radioactive leak.

The explosion happened at a center for processing and decommissioning nuclear waste, said the safety agency, which is known by its French acronym ASN.

The agency has sent inspectors to the site, it said in a statement.

The explosion took place in Marcoule, in southeastern France, the EDF spokeswoman said, declining to give her name in line with company policy.

Explosion at French nuclear facility
  • Nuclear Energy
  • France
  • EDF Group

The building housing the furnace was not structurally damaged by the explosion, an official at the plant said.

Different activities take place at the large-scale site, including research by France's Center for Atomic Energy, said a spokeswoman for Areva, a nuclear company that has operations at Marcoule.

Areva dismantles nuclear facilities at the site, she said.

There are no nuclear power plants in Marcoule, the spokeswoman said, declining to give her name.

Weapons-grade plutonium was once produced at the site, one of the oldest nuclear facilities in the country, but France no longer produces plutonium.

The location is not far from the Cote du Rhone wine region.

Ed Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists in the United States said he does not know of any comparable facilities there, but he said the incident in France shows that processing even low-level nuclear waste carries some risk.

The incident could affect the debate over what the U.S. does with its spent nuclear fuel, said Lyman of the nuclear watchdog group.

Currently, nuclear plants store the fuel in pools and in dry casks. Some say that it should be processed for reuse, as is done in France.

But Lyman said that reprocessing creates large amounts of low-level waste and that Monday's incident shows the risk of dealing with even that kind of waste.

France relies heavily on nuclear power, which now accounts for about 80% of the country's electricity production, according to the U.S. State Department.

The French government has been reviewing the country's dependence on nuclear energy after the nuclear disaster at Fukushima in Japan in March 2011, which was triggered by an earthquake and tsunami.

There have been no serious suggestions from mainstream politicians that France reduce its dependence on nuclear power, the State Department says.

CNN's Dheepthi Namasivayam, Saskya Vandoorne, Jim Bittermann, Mike Ahlers and Josh Levs contributed to this report.