|Transformer Explosion Cattenom Unit1 7th June 2013|
Yes, you can say that my focus has always been towards Chernobyl, Mayak and to Fukushima, I researched there, attended seminars, held trainings, blew whistles... But all theses disasters made me blind to see the one just outside my window. As for several years now, I traveled to different hot spots, helped different anti-nuclear movements across Europe, but really failing sometimes to take a glance outside my bedroom window, from where I can always see the cooling clouds of Cattenom, Luxembourg's capital city is just 25km outside this mega nuclear power plant.
Cattenom is the 8th biggest Nuclear power plant in the world, one of the biggest in Europe. The flagship of the French nuclear parc. Also it has another very scary record. It is the commercial plant with the most known incidents in the last year. In 2012, 47 incidents were reported to the French Government Atomic Security Agency (ASN). In February 2013, 2 workers died in a horrific work accident while renovating the ceiling of the containment. The sheer number of incidents made the ASN perform a new survey and special visit to Cattenom from June 4th to June 6th to review the plant. Next to lack of basic radio-protective material such as A-suits and that defects are fixed or identified too late out of economic reasons, the ASN report concludes: "An in-depth analysis shows that major incidents - even if they are not relevant for the functioning of the system - go back to an insufficient accuracy in the preparation or an inadequate coordination. Such inaccuracies, some with technical incidents that were not predictable in 2012 have led to the regular examinations had to be extended considerably. " The 2006 founded "independent" state body ASN is not known for uttering such clear messages and in the case of Cattenom it seems that they were very preoccupied about the general situation.
Only published days later but on June 5, traces of boron were found in the cooling system of the reactor which left engineers baffled as they are still trying to figure out where these traces come from. Normally boron is not used during the reaction but is mostly used to break up a dangerous chain reaction. Are the exploiting EDF (Electricitiy of France) again covering up something?
One day (!) after their special survey on 7th of June, around 13:30, the transformer of unit 1 caught fire and exploded quickly after that. The shock wave and bang was heard in a radius of approximately 15km. Scared local residents called the emergency services as black smoke came pouring out unit 1. It is believed that 50 vehicles and a 100 firefighters rushed to the scene, to deal with the dangerous and difficult task to extinct a transformer-fire. Shortly after the moment of the explosion, Unit-1 went into automatic shut down. As far as I was told from the State radio-protection, emergency-power units did not have to be started as the reactor was still being alimented by another transformer. Nevertheless this shows that one of the main lifelines, the main transformer and generator were comprehended. Generally it is the failure of several of those systems or circumstances that lead to a disaster as f.i. construction design, human error in Chernobyl or poor use, human error and multiple electric failure in Fukushima. The fire was thought to be extinct by 16:30. Unit 1 will be down until further notice, the reactor is in shut down and is being cooled at the moment.
On June 11th, the Cattenom power station simply uttered a small press release to the National Homefront and Radioprotection to announce that yet another auxiliary transformer, the emergency generator of Unit 3 was broken and not operational until further notice. Experts could not yet determine the source of the failure.
This incident from friday has revealed once more, that even after extensive stress test, national safety reviews, and numerous warning, and whistle blowers, a power plant can grow out of control within a very short time. Cattenom, which was built as the most modern, safest and powerful of all French plants, is the best example of it. And to tell you the truth, you kind of expect it to happen. The safety record is Cattenom is so so poor that you just wait for the worst. A higher dose of tritium in the cooling river, soil contamination, technical failures, you are used to hear only those kind of news from Cattenom. And at one point you live with it. Still you protest, you work against it, but somewhat also accept the faith that there is a high chance that things will go very wrong at a moment. Nevertheless, when I saw the black smoke, at the time of Friday's explosion I was about 12clicks outside of Cattenom, I got scared, and suddenly all the people you ever talked to in the exclusion zone, all the moved people from contaminated areas, everything comes together and makes sense, and as sometimes rather reluctant and sane person you start to accept and live with it.
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Further Reading: (Selection of Press Releases from the Station, press articles, etc):
Video of the fire: