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Work-related accident at the COGEMA La Hague plant

Press release

September 24, 1999

Two employees of the COGEMA Group were involved in a work-related accident on September 24, 1999 at 7 p.m. in the AMEC shipping cask maintenance facility at the COGEMA La Hague plant. An operator descended into the cavity of a vertically positioned shipping cask to perform maintenance. The recently refurbished cask was free of any trace of nuclear materials. The operator collapsed.

One of his colleagues, who was in charge of supervising the work, immediately informed the site emergency services. A third operator who was present at the time decided to go down into the cask to help his colleague before the emergency personnel arrived; he also lost consciousness. The emergency response team arrived on the scene rapidly and gave emergency medical aid to the unconscious operators. Unfortunately, despite intensive efforts (oxygen, cardiac massage), the team was unable to revive the first operator, who died. The second operator was transported to Pasteur Hospital in Cherbourg in a coma.*

An investigation is under way to determine the exact circumstances of the accident. Preliminary information indicates that the accident was apparently caused by a lack of oxygen in the bottom of the cask cavity, causing asphyxiation. Existing procedures for this type of operation stipulate that the bottom of the cavity must be continuously fed with air before any intervention and that operators must be equipped with oximeters (a device for measuring oxygen concentrations in air).

The investigation will focus on whether these safety procedures were followed. The relevant government agencies and departments (Labor Inspection, Regional Department of Social Security, Regional Division of Industry, Research & the Environment, Department of Nuclear Facility Safety) were informed of the non-nuclear related accident.

The Plant Manager will meet the press Saturday morning at 10 a.m. to explain the circumstances surrounding the accident and to answer questions relating to it. With this tragic turn of events, the management and staff of the COGEMA Group wish to express their deepest sympathy to the families of the employees involved in the accident.

*Update, 11/24/99
After a period of convalescence, the second operator returned to work on November 8, 1999.