At least one person was killed and three were seriously injured in an explosion at the Marcoule nuclear reprocessing plant in southern France on Monday. Officials said there were no risks of a radioactive leak although they had been slow to divulge details about the circumstances surrounding the accident.

The accident occurred at 11.45 a.m. at the Centraco nuclear waste treatment centre, which belongs to Socodei, a subsidiary of the energy giant EDF. Marcoule, in the southern Gard region, is a major nuclear site. Its three reactors have been decommissioned, but it is now a base for reprocessing nuclear waste.

A fire has also been reported from the storage area where the explosion took place.

The site is partly used by French nuclear giant Areva to produce mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, which recycles plutonium from nuclear weapons, the AFP reported.

This kind of fuel, considered more dangerous from the radioactivity point of view because it uses a mix of uranium and plutonium, is used in the EPR type of reactors India is planning to purchase from France.

The site is involved in the decommissioning of nuclear facilities, and operates a pressurised water reactor used to produce tritium.

Opponents of nuclear power have always underlined the dangers linked to the safe disposal of nuclear waste, for which no satisfactory solution exists.

Evangelia Petit of the Agency for Nuclear Safety said on Monday that an explosion had taken place, but declined to provide further details. Officials in the Gard region confirmed the report, but did not elaborate.

French television reports said the blast took place in one of the fours (furnaces) at the plant. However, no confirmation is available about the exact blast site or the manner in which it occurred.

With its 58 reactors, France is the second largest producer of nuclear energy and EDF is a world leader in building and running nuclear power plants.

However, EDF has had to admit that its EPR reactor at Flamanville has now gone way over budget (from € 3 billion to € 7 billion) with delays of over two years following two fatalities on the site.

Sylvie Goulard, member of the European Parliament's Economic and Monetary Affairs Commission and the rapporteur of budgetary surveillance in the Euro zone, told The Hindu: “The future of nuclear energy looks less radiant with each passing day and we would do well to ponder Germany's decision not to extend the life of its ageing nuclear reactors and to invest massively in alternative energies.”

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