France investigating nuclear ‘cover-ups’
The French government is investigating whistleblower allegations that a state-run utility agency attempted to conceal safety issues at a nuclear power plant.
Prosecutors have confirmed that they are following up on complaints filed late last year.
Officials in Marseille launched an investigation into the alleged safety problems last month after an anonymous whistleblower said conditions at the Tricastin nuclear plant in southern France were “endangering the lives of others,” French newspaper Le Monde reported on Wednesday.
An engineer at the facility, the whistleblower also accused officials at the plant of “harassment,” as well as “violations of the criminal code, the environmental code, the labor code and the regulations relating to nuclear installations.” Though incidents continued – including a mysterious power surge at one reactor in 2017 and a flood at the same station one year later – no action was taken.
The largely state-run firm which operates the plant, Electricite de France (EDF), confirmed the ongoing investigation to the Wall Street Journal, saying the probe would help to “shed all necessary light on the alleged facts and thereby show the truth.”
Speaking to Reuters on Thursday, a lawyer for the whistleblower, William Bourdon, said the complaint was initially filed in November, but noted that the subsequent investigation does not target EDF directly. Instead, a probe “against X” has been launched, allowing prosecutors to look into the actions of multiple different parties.
The new investigation marks another blow for the French utility, which has recently taken half of the country’s nuclear reactors offline due to scheduled maintenance and refueling, and even outages caused by corrosion and damage. The spate of shutdowns coincided with soaring energy prices across Europe and elsewhere, driven in part by the conflict in Ukraine, as well as Western sanctions on Russian gas and oil exports.
The cost of inspecting and repairing the French nuclear plants could exceed €4.5 billion ($4.8 billion), according to recent EDF estimates, well beyond previous expectations. France derives around 70% of its electricity from nuclear power, and has seen a jump in prices throughout 2022.
Prior to the whistleblower filing, the Tricastin nuclear site had encountered some safety issues, including two separate uranium leaks within a matter of days in July 2008 which contaminated 100 employees at the plant and led to a ban on using local water for drinking, swimming, and agriculture.