Nuclear News - Nuclear Monitor #825 - 15 June 2016

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Nuclear plants face crisis of aging

Climate News Network reports:1

The nuclear industry worldwide faces an escalating battle to keep aging reactors running as about a quarter of components and computer systems become obsolete. Life extensions to nuclear plants in Europe and North America are repeatedly being granted by safety regulators. But, according to nuclear plant owners, 25% of parts are now obsolete, so keeping the reactors going is becoming an increasing problem as components wear out.

This is the background to the Nuclear Power Plant Optimisation Summit2 held in Brussels in early June 2016.

Nuclear power plants built across the world in the 1970s and 80s rely on computer technology and components now long out of production. Replacing worn-out parts is becoming a serious problem, causing an increasing number of unplanned and expensive shutdowns while components are updated.

A survey of those employed in the industry found nine out of 10 people agreeing that the industry needed to improve its efficiency, and 86% thought the age of the plants was having a moderate or significant effect on efficiency.

Three-quarters of the problems were caused by aging equipment, partly because buying replacement parts proved impossible. And finding people with the expertise to operate obsolete equipment is a problem as experienced staff retire.

1. Paul Brown, 6 June 2016, 'Nuclear plants face crisis of ageing',


Dutch MPs urge closure of Belgian nuclear plants

Dutch lawmakers on June 7 urged the government to push for the closure of two aging nuclear reactors in Belgium.1 The parliamentarians noted in a resolution ‒ adopted by 78 votes in favour with 72 against ‒ that the Belgian reactors at Tihange and Doel have been subject to security and safety scares and they "call on the Dutch government to join with Germany and Luxembourg and ask the Belgian government to close them."

Earlier this year, Belgium opened up its two nuclear plants to inspections by ministers from Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands after a number of problems including leaks, pressure vessel cracks and sabotage.

Many small cracks discovered in 2012 in the reactor pressure vessels of Doel 3 and Tihange 2 caused lengthy closures of those two reactors. They were both restarted at the end of last year, one having to close quickly again, for a few days, after a water leak.

Dutch Environment Minister Melanie Schultz van Haegen visited Doel in January and said at the time that she had "serious concerns" about the aging reactors.1

In April, Germany and Luxembourg called for a temporary closure of Doel 3 and Tihange 2.2 But Belgian officials said the reactors were subjected to the "strictest safety controls" and there was no reason to shut them down.

In April, the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia said it would join a lawsuit brought by the Aachen city region against the Tihange 2 reactor, which is roughly 65 kilometres (about 40 miles) away from the west German city.3

The Guardian reported in March 2016 that an alliance of 30 major cities and districts from three countries has joined forces to try to shut down two aging Belgian nuclear reactors close to their borders. Cologne and Dusseldorf in Germany, Luxembourg City and Maastricht in the Netherlands are among the cities co-funding a lawsuit to close one reactor – Tihange 2 – and calling on the European commission to prepare a separate case at the European court of justice. "More than 30 districts have adopted resolutions to support us, and want to join the lawsuit," said Helmut Echtenberg, mayor of Germany's Greater Aachen region.4

Lawyers are already working on a second nuclear lawsuit, which may be filed in Belgium by the Dutch city of Maastricht. The regional governments of North Rhine Westphalia and Rhineland Palatinate are taking separate cases against the reactors to the UN and European commission.4

1. Agence France-Presse, 8 June 2016, 'Dutch MPs urge closure of Belgian nuclear plants',

2. &



From the Nuclear Monitor:

4 May 2016, #823, 'All Belgians likely to be issued with iodine tablets'

21 April 2016, #822, 'Belgium's nuclear security scares'

3 Dec 2015, #815, 'Belgium: Reactor restarts and lifespan extensions but 2025 phase-out law remains',

18 Aug 2015, #808, 'Belgian government ignores EIA and public participation obligations',

7 May 2015, #803, 'Belgium to postpone closure of Doel 1 and 2?',

19 March 2015, #800, 'Belgium and the END of nuclear power',

U.S. EPA proposes huge increase in radioactivity allowed in drinking water

The U.S. EPA has quietly issued proposals to allow radioactive contamination in drinking water at concentrations vastly greater than allowed under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The EPA proposed Protective Action Guides (PAGs) would allow the general population to drink
water hundreds to thousands of times more radioactive than is now legal.

Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Food & Water Watch opposed the proposals in a joint statement.

"Clean Water is essential for health. Just like lead, radiation when ingested in small amounts is very hazardous to our health. It is inconceivable that EPA could now quietly propose allowing enormous increases in radioactive contamination with no action to protect the public, even if concentrations are a thousand times higher than under the Safe Drinking Water Act," said Dr. Catherine Thomasson, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

PAGs apply not just to emergencies such as "dirty bombs," and Fukushima-type nuclear power meltdowns but also to any radiological release for which a protective action may be considered – even a radiopharmaceutical transport spill. The proposed drinking water PAG would apply not to the immediate phase after a release, but rather to the intermediate phase, after the release has been stabilized, and lasting up to several years thereafter.

The current Safe Drinking Water Act limits are based on 4 millirems per year. The PAGs would allow 500 millirems per year for the general population.

Internal EPA documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that the EPA itself concluded that the proposed concentrations "would exceed MCLs [Maximum Contaminant Limits of the Safe Drinking Water Act] by a factor of 100, 1000, and in two instances, 7 million."

Diane D'Arrigo from the Nuclear Information and Resource Service said: "All of this is extraordinary, since EPA has recently accepted the National Academy of Sciences' most current risk estimates for radiation, indicating radiation is considerably more dangerous per unit dose than previously believed. Pushing allowable concentrations of radioactivity in drinking water up orders of magnitude above the longstanding Safe Drinking Water Act levels goes in exactly the opposite direction than the official radiation risk estimates go."

The public has 45 days to comment to the EPA on the Protective Action Guides.

The joint NGO statement has links to the EPA and to the Freedom of Information documents: