PARIS (AP) — An explosion at a nuclear waste facility in southern France killed one person and injured four on Monday. Authorities said there was no radioactive leak, but critics urged France to rethink its nuclear power in the wake of the catastrophe at Japan's Fukushima plant.
The Nuclear Safety Authority declared the accident "terminated" soon after the blast at a furnace in the Centraco site, in the southern Languedoc-Roussillon region, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the city of Avignon. One of the injured suffered severe burns.
The agency said the situation had been brought under control in less than an hour after it broke out shortly past noon. The building that houses the furnace wasn't damaged, no leaks were reported and residents who live near the site were not evacuated, the agency said in a statement.
The cause of the accident is not known, and an investigation has been opened to see what went wrong, authorities here said.
France is the world's most nuclear-dependent nation. It relies on the 58 nuclear power plants that dot the country for about three-quarters of its total electricity, and it's also a major exporter of nuclear technology throughout the world.
While the March meltdown at Japan's Fukushima plant prompted other countries to re-evaluate their nuclear programs — with neighboring Germany vowing to shut all its plants by 2022 — France has remained steadfast in its support for nuclear energy.
Authorities here downplayed the importance of Monday's incident.
"It's an industrial accident and not a nuclear accident," Industry Minister Eric Besson said on i-Tele television. "There have been no radioactive leaks and there have been no chemical leaks."
Still, French environmentalists have long called for an end to the country's nuclear program, and several ecology and leftist parties urged authorities here to rethink nuclear policy after Monday's incident.
Sophia Majnoni, who runs Greenpeace's nuclear campaign in France, noted that the plant was not part of a French safety audit conducted in the wake of the Fukushima accident.
"It is a nuclear plant yet its resistance to earthquake or flooding won't be checked, which allows us to think that the government has not drawn all the lessons from the Fukushima catastrophe," she said. "It is not only the nuclear power plants that are dangerous for population."
Ecology Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet was slated to visit Centraco — one of four industrial installations at the Marcoule nuclear site — later Monday. The 300-hectare (740-acre) Marcoule site also houses a research center and four industrial sites, including one that makes Mox, a fuel made from plutonium and uranium.