French Fission Fire

Errol Kerr puts out the rumours on a French nuclear disaster

27th February 2017

Nobody panic! but there’s been an explosion at a nuclear power plant in France. I mean, considering it’s not covering every single news outlet like an event such as Fukushima or Chernobyl did, we can probably say we’re safe. On Thursday 9th February, the Flamanville nuclear power plant suffered from an explosion caused by a fire in the turbine hall. Whilst the event began at 9:40 in the morning, those working at the plant had the event under control by 11:00 the same day. Not only has sabotage been entirely ruled out as a possible cause of the fire, they have also stated that there is no risk of any radioactive contamination. Rather than being considered a major event, this incident has been described as a “significant technical issue” by a worker at the plant, considering the fire and explosion was well outside or the nuclear zone inside the plant. Of course, it’s picked up more media attention than normal, despite it being wholly contained, simply because of its placement within the plant.

"Nobody panic! but there’s been an explosion at a nuclear power plant in France. However, many nuclear experts indicated that this incident was relatively minor"

Nuclear power plants are a fear-inducing human creation. After all, we’re still reeling somewhat from the events of the Chernobyl explosion, and Japan is still dealing with the radiation being released by the Fukushima plant. However, many nuclear experts indicated that this incident was relatively minor. Not only was the turbine fire contained in an incredibly short space of time, leading to only four hospitalisations due to smoke inhalation, but the design of the reactor would have avoided any leaking of radioactive materials into any water – the water within the turbine wouldn’t pass through the reactor core in such an event, circumventing irradiation fears. Despite this, it cannot be denied that major events are costly and extensive to repair or solve, with the Fukushima leaks being monitored to this day, having cost around $190 billion since the events on March 11, 2011, and the reactor will still take several decades to repair.

France is heavily reliant on nuclear power – with four fifths of the country’s electricity supply originating at nuclear stations – but with many of these older stations due to close in the 2030s, and the Hollande’s current French government passing laws sanctioning the amount of electricity nuclear plants can create, as well as encouraging moves towards renewable energy sources such as solar or wind power, it may only be a matter of time before nuclear power becomes a dead dream of the 20th century. Despite this, Flamanville is still creating a new generation reactor, which will not only start producing power in 2018, but will be the largest nuclear reactor on the planet. Replacing an older reactor, the new build should hopefully alleviate the worries caused by the event at the start of this month, but has already faced costly setbacks.

This event will naturally raise concerns over the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant that has been announced and given the go-ahead in the UK, not only due to the cost of construction, but also the fear of events that would be both physically and economically disastrous. I defended the safe use of nuclear power in a Courier article last year, and my stance has only marginally changed - as it will be a modern nuclear plant, the safety fail safes event of any failure or incident will be in place to resolve issues, however these aforementioned fears cannot be ignored, as the cost of any jobs required to fix a damaged or destroyed plant are far too high to ignore and set aside.

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