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expert reaction to media reports of an explosion at Flamanville nuclear power plant in France

An explosion and fire have occurred at the Flamanville nuclear plant on France’s northern cost.


Prof. Jim Smith, Professor of Environmental Science, University of Portsmouth, said:

“Reports on the explosion at Flamanville state that the accident occurred on a part of the site which doesn’t put the safety of the reactor at risk, though one of the reactors has been disconnected from the grid.  It is reported that there is no leakage of radioactive material.  Nuclear power stations have the same electricity generating turbines and other machinery as other large non-nuclear power stations.  It appears that the fire occurred in this non-nuclear part of the plant.  According to reports, the fire has been put out and doesn’t present a risk to the nuclear reactor.  French reports suggest that the explosion was caused by the overheating of a fan.

“Though any accident at a nuclear site must be taken seriously, I wouldn’t call this a nuclear accident as there was no release of radioactive material and the reactor was not affected.  There doesn’t appear to be any risk to the general public.”


Lisa Hughes, Chartered Chemical Engineer and Independent Nuclear Consultant at Ingenium (an independent engineering consultancy), said:

“There’s limited information available however EDF have confirmed that there was a fire in a non-nuclear facility which was immediately brought under control. As a precaution Reactor 1 has been taken offline. There is a significant amount of industrial equipment in the non-nuclear areas of reactors, for example transformers, electrical switchgear, etc. and this incident appears to be in one of these areas (although not confirmed). Staff at all nuclear facilities are trained and regularly carry out emergency exercises to prepare to respond to incidents in nuclear and non-nuclear areas of reactors and this training and practice will have been utilised today to bring the incident to a safe conclusion. There is nothing for the general public to be worried about and as EDF has stated there are no ongoing safety or environmental concerns and no casualties.”


Prof. Paddy Regan, Professor of  Nuclear Physics, University of Surrey, said:

“The explosion at Flamanville, while perhaps initially disconcerting, appears to be related to the explosion of a ventilator and is not related to the nuclear reactor core operation in anyway. The incident shows no signs of any excess radiation leaks. It is very easy to determine radioactive materials which would come from the core externally and such leaks, if present, could not be hidden. There appear to be no evidence of any emissions of excess radioactive materials from this incident, which appears to be a mechanical failure of an external ventilator system.”


Prof. Barry Marsden, Professor of Nuclear Graphite Technology, University of Manchester, said:

“The Flamanville reactors are pressurized water reactors with a primary and secondary coolant circuit, so the water that passes through the turbine has not been through the reactor core, so there is unlikely to be a radioactive release.

“Explosions and fires in industrial turbines, usually related to oil in bearings overheating, are not uncommon and occur from time to time in conventional coal, oil or gas plant and even wind turbines.”


Prof. Neil Hyatt, Professor of Radioactive Waste Management and Head of Department of Materials Science & Engineering, University of Sheffield, said:

“All the information available points to an explosion in the mechanical plant at the Flammanville nuclear power plant.  This would not be expected to result in a leak of radioactive substances and there are no indications of such a leak at the moment.  Nevertheless, any incident of this kind at a nuclear power plant is very serious and the national and international regulators will want to undertake a thorough investigation to understand the cause and lessons to be learned.”


Declared interests

Prof Jim Smith: “I currently have a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) grant (ca. £450k) studying the effects of radiation on fish at Chernobyl. This is part of a programme jointly funded by NERC, the Environment Agency and Radioactive Waste Management Ltd. I have done a small (about £10k, paid to the university) consultancy job for Horizon Nuclear Power (completed 2012) and other small contracts to customers including the Japan Atomic Energy Agency and Radioactive Waste Management Ltd.. I have also carried out a variety of consultancy to independent regulatory bodies (including Environment Agency; Food Standards Agency) worth about £100k to my institution. I don’t do consultancy in a personal capacity.”

Lisa Hughes: “Lisa has no interests to declare – she is not connected to EDF in any way, however there are EDF staff on the Nuclear Special Interest Group where Lisa is Chair.  Ingenium is an independent engineering consultancy, owned by Lisa who specialises in nuclear. Prior to this she worked at Sellafield, Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and Magnox.”

Prof Neil Hyatt: “paid employment or self-employment: University of Sheffield – full time academic. Grant funding: ESPRC, EU, Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Memberships: Royal Society of Chemistry.”

None others received.

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