PARIS (AFP) — France's ecology minister has called for tests of the ground water near all of the country's 58 nuclear reactors after a uranium leak at a plant in the south polluted the local water supply.
"I don't want people to feel that we are hiding anything from them," Jean-Louis Borloo said in a newspaper interview Thursday.
Residents in the Vaucluse region of southern France have been told not to drink water or eat fish from nearby rivers after the liquid uranium spill on July 7 at the Tricastin nuclear plant.
Swimming and water sports were also forbidden as was irrigation of crops with the contaminated water.
French authorities last week ordered the closure of a nuclear treatment facility at the plant, which is run by Socatri, a subsidiary of French nuclear giant Areva.
But Borloo said he wanted a government committee on nuclear safety to look into environmental conditions at all sites.
"In particular the state of the ground water located near all of the French nuclear plants must be verified," Borloo said.
"I'm told that everything is under control, but I want to be sure," he told Le Parisien newspaper.
France is home to the world's second largest network of nuclear reactors after the United States and the facilities generate more than 80 percent of its electricity.
While the spill at Tricastin took place at a treatment facility and did not affect the reactor, Borloo stressed that in the area of nuclear energy "there is no room for negligence."
Following tests, the IRSN nuclear safety institute said it had pinpointed four areas where there are abnormally high levels of uranium in the ground water and that this could not have been caused by the Tricastin leak alone.
A separate commission has raised the possibility that the contamination may be linked to military nuclear waste buried in at an underground storage site from 1964 to 1976 at the Tricastin plant.
Tricastin is located in the town of Bollene in the Vaucluse, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the city of Avignon, which is currently hosting a major theatre festival.
Part of France's popular Provence summer tourist destination, the Vaucluse draws legions of holidaymakers to its picturesque towns.
French environmental activists welcomed the water testing but said the measure should apply to all nuclear sites, not just power stations.
"Other than the 19 nuclear power stations run by EDF, France is dotted with nuclear sites run by Areva, the nuclear energy commission or the national agency for radioactive waste management," said the group Sortir du nucleaire (End nuclear power) in a statement.
It added that the tests should be carried out by an independent group, with no ties to the government.
Greenpeace also said the analyses should be carried out at other nuclear sites and criticised the government for showing "belated concern" for the pollution problems caused by nuclear energy.
The president of Areva, Anne Lauvergeon, was due to visit the plant on Friday to personally assess the state of safety measures after the leak.
The leakage occurred when liquid was transferred from one container to another at the Tricastin site, which has a nuclear reactor as well as a radioactive treatment plant.
The leak ranked as a level-one incident on the seven-point scale to rank nuclear accidents.
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