A fire broke out in the nuclear plant in Fessenheim, north eastern France. This is the country’s oldest plant, commissioned 40 years ago and President Hollande had promised to close it down as one of his campaign pledges.

A fire broke out in “production unit 2 of the Machine Room” (the non nuclear part of the reactor) early this morning. “The fire was quickly put out,” said a communiqué issued by EDF which operated Fessenheim. “The fire was caused by cooling material. It was quickly detected and put out. The fire had no consequence on the safety, the environment or on production at the plant which remained at 100 per cent.”

Local officials said “oxygenated steam” was produced when hydrogen peroxide reacted with water in a reservoir. Though there was no radioactive leak, the accidental spillage of highly corrosive and inflammable chemicals, burning the protective gloves of two workers in the plant and causing severe injuries, has again raised the question of safety in French nuclear plants. This fire comes just three weeks after an incident at the nuclear installation at Penly (on the west coast of France) when the reactor went into automatic shutdown mode following the outbreak of two fires in the building housing reactor No 2. A radioactive leak in a cooling pump was also detected at the time.

In an audit carried out by France’s Nuclear Safety Agency, EDF, the operator/constructor that runs all of France’s 58 nuclear reactors was told it would have to invest between €10 to 16 billion to make all of France’s nuclear reactors safe, including the powerful, as yet uncompleted EPR reactor at Flamanville.

India is planning to buy six of these reactors whose price tag has shot up from €3 billions apiece to almost €7 billions each. The worrying fact is that there have been extremely long delays in construction and EDF has come in for very strong criticism for using cheap, unskilled contract labour, mainly form Eastern Europe and asked to destroy and redo cementing, cladding and soldering and other work.

Fessenheim, France’s oldest reactor which was commissioned in 1977 lies close to the border with Germany and Switzerland. It has been mired in controversy because of its age and its location — it lies in a zone prone both to flooding and seismic activity.

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