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French officials: 'Don't worry about fatal nuclear explosion'

Radiation leak danger 'very, very low'

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After one person was killed and four injured in an explosion at a French nuclear waste-processing plant, the French government rushed to reassure a citizenry increasingly edgy about nuclear safety.

"There is no chemical or nuclear risk as we speak," a French government spokeswoman told The Wall Street Journal. "It's an industrial accident, not a nuclear accident."

The explosion took place in an oven used to incinerate items with low levels of radiation, such as workers' uniforms and gloves, oils and solvents, and metal waste. A member of the French Institute for Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety told the WSJ that because of the low level of radioactivity in the waste products and the fact that damage to the building as a whole was slight, the amount of radiation released should be "very, very low."

The Marcoule nuclear waste-processing plant

The sprawling Marcoule nuclear facility, site of Monday's fatal blast

A security cordon was established after the explosion, but removed after the French nuclear safety agency, the Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire, said that there was no public danger as a result of the blast, The Guardian reported.

The incineration facility is run by Centraco, a subsidiary of the French power company Électricité de France, and is located at the 140-hectare (346-acre) Marcoule atomic center near Nimes in southern France.

Marcoule, one of France's oldest nuclear sites, has four reactors, none of which were operating at the time of the Monday's explosion. Three have been long decommissioned, and the fourth – a small-scale fast breeder reactor prototype known as Phénix – was shut down in late 2009.

The sprawling Marcoule facility is used for "the cleanup and disassembly of nuclear installations which have reached the end of their life cycle," according to AREVA, the contractor managing the waste disposal along with providing other nuclear-industry services such as the production of tritium and the maintenance of nuclear-material transport containers. ®

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