France reassures on cleanness of nuclear sites

Sunday, November 9, 2008

PARIS (Reuters) - Tests on water tables under French nuclear sites, after a major uranium leak in the south earlier this year, showed there were no significant environmental or health dangers, a government committee said on Friday.

Plant operator Areva said in July that 30 cubic meters of liquid containing non-enriched uranium was accidentally poured onto the ground and into a river at the Tricastin nuclear site in southeastern France.

Following the incident, the government set up a special committee, which made 18 recommendations to improve access to information, develop a scale for nuclear pollution incidents and develop expertise through private and university laboratories.

"Some of the recommendations on how to improve transparency, information and expertise are very powerful and I commit myself to put in place the 18 proposals," Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo told a news briefing.

The transparency committee itself said in a press release: "The radioactive state of underground water tables under and around nuclear sites do not globally pose significant problems in the areas of environment and health."

The tests also showed traces of pollution at some old nuclear sites, which remained below the levels recommended by the World Health Organization.

"Those have been (for a long time) under reinforced surveillance and attention," the committee added.

In the wake of the Tricastin incident, which prompted public outrage, authorities banned fishing and swimming in the affected areas as well as the use of contaminated water.

Nuclear safety authority ASN criticized Areva for its handling of the incident, notably in the way in which it communicated with authorities. It also pointed to unsatisfactory security measures and operational procedures.

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