What You Need to Know About the Nuclear Explosion in France

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marcoule.jpg

An explosion rocked a French nuclear site used to help decommission other facilities. France derives the highest percentage of its electricity from nuclear energy of any country in the world, so problems with its nuclear system pose a very serious threat to the country's productivity. That said, this site is not a large nuclear facility and does not contain electricity-producing reactors. The Marcoule operation has a long history in the French nuclear program, and was hoping to be selected to house one of France's next-generation reactors. 


At this moment, it's hard to tell how big this story is. One person was killed in the blast and there have not been reports of any radioactive leaks. The real fallout in the case could come from the lingering feeling that France's nuclear miracle faces a generational challenge it may not overcome. The accident also highlights that nuclear power requires long-term solutions to its waste problems, solutions that in themselves can spawn new fears.

One indication it might not be a big deal: the share price of AREVA, the biggest player in the French nuclear sector, has barely moved. That said, the company's stock has fallen more than 30 percent since the end of May.

Who to Follow for  More News: Geoff Brumfiel at Nature News and Jonathan Fahey at AP are strong reporters who will hew closely to the science. Richard Black, the BBC's environment correspondent, will give you more of the political context for the blast.

Update 10:01am: Here's the map of the Marcoule site, northeast of Nimes, which is fuzzed out, as you can see. Google Maps shows the site in lower-resolution because of the sensitive nature of the site.

marcoule-fuzzed.jpg

Image: The Marcoule Site. Reuters.
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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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