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50,000 join 'human chain' protest in Europe!

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Fifty thousand people joined hands in a 90-kilometre human chain through Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium on June 25 to demand the closure of two Belgian nuclear power stations ‒ Tihange 2 and Doel 3 ‒ which both have thousands of cracks in the reactor vessels.

The organisers of the action, WISE (Netherlands), AAA (Germany) and 11Maartbeweging and Fin du Nucleaire (Belgium) speak of a great success and "by far the largest anti-nuclear action in Europe since the meltdown disaster in Fukushima, Japan."

The chain reached from Aachen in Germany via Maastricht in the Netherlands to Tihange. Nuclear opponents from France and Luxembourg also joined, giving "a clear sign that not only the scandal-reactors in Tihange and Doel, but also the reactors in France, the Netherlands and in Germany must be shut down."

The German federal government as well as the newly-elected North-Rhine Westphalian Provincial government, and the Lower Saxony Provincial government – who all want the Belgian nuclear power stations to be closed ‒ must 'walk the talk' and stop the license for the production and export of nuclear fuel for the Belgian reactors.

Protests are to continue. Another supraregional and international demo is planned in Lingen, Germany on September 9 against fuel manufacture and exportation, the uranium enrichment in Gronau and ongoing operation of nuclear power stations in Lingen, Grohnde, Belgium, Netherlands, France and elsewhere.

For WISE, the biggest success of the human chain was the fact that we managed to get people in the southern region of the Netherlands – close to the Tihange reactor ‒ organised and empowered. Hundreds of people joined local groups who took up mobilisation but who are now also willing to continue their work. In total, more than 10,000 Dutch people took part in the human chain – double the amount we expected. WISE director Peer de Rijk said: "This is so encouraging. We will continue to work with the people and groups and build a new movement in the region."

Just two days before the human chain took place, protesters were invited by the management of the Tihange nuclear power stations for a meeting – to take place at the same time as the human chain action. We responded by inviting them to come to the action and have a public debate. Thousands of activists were ready to listen to their view on the issue of the cracks in the reactor vessels. Of course, they did not show up. We will have this meeting soon, with one condition ‒ it has to be a public meeting.

More information (reports, photos, videos):


Doel 3 NPP: fissures in RDM reactor Vessel

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Eloi Glorieux, energy campaigner Greenpeace Belgium

Fissures in the reactor vessel of the Doel 3 reactor in Belgium were discovered using ultra-sound during inspections in June and July. The cracks possibly date back to the reactor's construction some 40 years ago by Dutch RDM (Rotterdamse Droogdok Maatschappij), which is no longer in business. Restart of the reactor after the regular scheduled inspections has been delayed. The shutdown for outage (with fuel discharged from the reactor) has been extended.

 Every 12 to 18 months Belgian nuclear power stations are subjected to an inspection of their installations and repair and maintenance operations. During this outage the reactor is shut down and the core is partially refuelled. During these outage periods the so-called ‘operating’ inspections are conducted to check the good condition of the reactor vessel (mainly weld zones between vessel elements). Non-destructive ultrasound measuring techniques are used. These inspections are carried out in accordance with standards developed for metallurgy by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (known under the name of Standards ASME XI). 

At Doel 3 this outage began in June 2012. A new ultrasound measuring technique was used for the first time during that inspection over the whole surface of the Doel 3 reactor vessel. This inspection was conducted 
by a specialist French firm on behalf of Electrabel. This is the first time in Belgium that the basic material of the reactor vessel was tested (elsewhere than in the weld zones). The whole wall of the reactor vessel was also inspec-ted, although the ASME XI standards only recommend inspection on sensitive components.

These first measurements revealed that further examination was necessary, which began on July 16. Numerous flaw indications (some reports say 8,000) in the basic steel material of the reactor vessel were detected in late June, in particular in the bottommost ring. These are "laminar" flaws parallel with the surface of the walls and, as such, theoretically not dangerous as they are normally not subject to stress.

Any repair to the vessel is practically impossible and, according to the FANC (Belgium’s Federal Agency for Nuclear Control) is not the option to take, because it is feared that such an operation would create new stress in the ves-sel walls, which must absolutely be avoided. A replacement of the vessel is extremely difficult (high radiation dose, etc.) and has never been done anywhere in the world.

FANC expects the following actions from the licensee:
• In-depth investigation of the original reactor vessel construction file to check whether it is a matter of design flaw.
• Metallurgical investigation to detect the cause and explanation of any potential production flaws.
• Drafting of a complete justification file in the context of a restart. It will be submitted to the competent authority for approval. This file will attempt to demonstrate that the detected flaw indications do not represent any danger for the structural integrity of the reactor vessel.

Until these issues have been satisfactorily solved no restart will be allowed, according to FANC, which has also stated that it is questionable if Doel 3 will ever be restarted. 

Furthermore, the Tihange 2 reactor has been shut down on August 16 for its planned outage. It will undergo the same kind of inspections as those conducted at Doel 3, since its reactor vessel was forged by the same manufacturer (RDM) in the 1970s.

The nuclear safety authorities met on Thursday 16 August in Brussels on the initiative of the FANC. Beside delegates from the FANC, this technical meeting was attended by experts from the USA, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Sweden and United Kingdom. This meeting was aimed at taking stock of the situation at Doel 3. The attending safety authorities were also informed on the additional inspections asked by the FANC and its technical subsidiary Bel V. Furthermore, this international contact made it possible to share expertise on reactor vessel integrity and inspections. The purpose of the technical meeting was to give in-formation on the situation at Doel 3 and not to make a decision about its future, according to the FANC press release. A second meeting of the nuclear safety authorities will be held in October, to discuss the outcome of the additional investigations at Doel 3, which will be completed at the end of September.

Meanwhile, the Belgium government anticipated a longer shutdown of both Doel 3 and Tihange 2 and promised there will be no blackouts if the stay shut during the winter. Just a few weeks earlier a new phase-out plan was confirmed (see Nuclear Monitor 753, 3 August). According to that schedule Doel 1 and 2 will be closed in 2015, Doel 3 is planned to be closed in 2022 and Tihange 2 in 2023.

As said, RDM built (or took part in the construction of) a total of 22 reactor vessels (see box) during 1960-1984 when it ceased operations. Van Veen, a manager during that time admitted later, RDM had no clue how to built reactor vessels and it was a process of learning while doing: quality control, for instance was an unknown concept in submarine construction, their core-business at the time.  

But press reports from that time show that cracks were not an unfamiliar phenomena. The reactor vessel of the Dutch Borssele reactor was found to have cracks and delivery was delayed in 1971. Now, the Dutch nuclear safety authority (KFD) state that there are no cracks at the Borssele reactor vessel, for many reasons, but that they will look further into it. In 1979, three years before startup, cracks were found at the Doel 3 and Tihange 2 vessels, according to press reports at the time. The cracks are confirmed during additional examinations in 1981, but reactors are allowed to start up in 1982. Striking detail: head of Doel 3 construction at Electrabel at the time was De Roovere, now head of FANC.

NPPs with RDM reactor vessel (type, start-up date)
Argentina: Atucha-1* (PWR; 3-1974)
Belgium: Doel-3 (PWR, 6-1982); Tihange-2 (PWR, 10-1982)
Germany: Brunsbuettel** (BWR, 7-1976), Philippsburg-1** (BWR, 5-1979)
Netherlands: Borssele (PWR, 7-1973), Dodewaard** (BWR, 10-1968)
Spain: Santa Maria de Garona (BWR, 10-1971), Cofrentes (BWR, 10-1984)
Sweden: Ringhals-2 (PWR, 8-1974)
Switzerland: Leibstadt (BWR, 5-1984), Muehleberg (BWR, 7-1971)
United States: Catawba-1 (PWR, 1-1985), McGuire-2 (PWR, 5-1983), North Anna-1 (PWR, 4-1978), North Anna-2 (PWR, 8-1980), Quad Cities-1 (BWR, 4-1972), Sequoyah-1 (PWR, 7-1980), Sequoyah-2 (PWR, 12-1981), Surry-1 (PWR, 7-1972), Surry-2 (PWR, 3-1973), Watts Bar-1 (PWR, 2-1996)
* There is some uncertainty about the Atucha-1 RPV, it is removed from the OECD-list on August 26, after a denial that it was constructed at RDM by the nuclear regulatory commission of Argentina. However, other sources (like the German Jahrbuch der Atomwirtschaft, edition 1971 and 1972, available at the Laka library) state clearly some involvement of RDM. 
** NPP Dodewaard, Bruensbuttel en Philippsburg are in permanent shut down 

Sources: OECD/NEA, press release 16 August, updated 26 August 2012 / own research Laka Foundation.

Sources: Atoomenergie, Juli/August 1972 in Dutch, available at: / Interview Van Veen RDM, in: Republiek der Kerngeleerden, CD. Andriesse 1997, in Dutch, availabe 
/ FANC, Infofiche, August (updated), English version available at: www.fanc. be/nl/page/infofiche-over-de-reactor-en-het-reactorvat/1460.aspx / FANC, Press release, 16 August 2012: Doel 3: Safety Authorities Meet in Brussels / De Morgen, 23 August 2012, 
Contact:  Eloi Glorieux, energy campaigner Greenpeace Belgium
Email: eloi.glorieux[at]


Belgium confirms nuclear phase-out by 2025, but extends lifetime of Tihange-1

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Eloi Glorieux, Energy campaigner Greenpeace Belgium

On July 4, the Belgian government finally took a decision about the fate of nuclear power. According to the 2003 nuclear phase-out law, all seven PWR's (4 at Doel and 3 at Tihange, with a total of 5,900 MW) should be decommissioned after 40 years of operation. In 2015, the three oldest reactors Doel-1, Doel-2 (both 433 MW) and Tihange-1 (900 MW) will reach the age of 40. The four other reactors are scheduled to be decommissioned between 2022 and 2025. Today nuclear power produces 54% of the country's electricity.

In the governmental agreement of Decem-ber 2011, the majority parties agreed to respect “in principle” the 2003 nuclear phase-out law, but the closure of the three oldest reactors in 2015 would  be subject to an “equipment plan” about the security of supply. At the end of May, the state secretary for Energy, Mel-chior Wathelet, presented his equip-ment plan. The report, made by his administration, concluded that till 2017- 2018, under extreme winter conditions, temporary supply problems could occur if the three oldest reactors would be closed in 2015. Nuclear plant operator GDF-Suez/Electrabel stated clearly that they were not ready to invest in the necessary upgrades and back fittings of those old reactors if they would not get a life time extension approval for at least ten years. Finally, on July 4th, the minister council took the following decision:

  • The twin units Doel-1 and Doel-2 will be closed in 2015, after 40 years of operation as stipulated in the nuclear phase-out law. 
  • The lifetime of Tihange-1 will be extended with 10 years, till 2025. 
  • The four other reactors will be closed after 40 years of operation, as stipulated in the nuclear phase-out law : Doel-3 in 2022; Tihange-2 in 2023; Tihange-3 and Doel-4 in 2025.

The minister council also decided  to delete article 9 of the 2003 nuclear phase-out law, which stipulates that the lifetime of the reactors may be extended over 40 years “if the security of sup-ply is endangered”. The government argued that this will secure the nuclear phase-out calendar, so that no new lifetime extensions could be granted in the future. Furthermore the government decided to facilitate the investment 
in new flexible replacement capacity, especially thermal gas plants. Because of the lifetime extension of Tihange-1, the existing gas plants become less profitable. To compensate this, the government intends to subsidize new gas plants. It remains very questionable that de European Commission will allow this governmental support for new fossil plants. Furthermore, in an attempt to cut the electricity price, the gover-nment decided to place 1,000 MW of GDF-Suez/Electrabel's cheap nuclear capacity at the disposal of the other power companies. 

The anti-nuclear platform Stop Nuclear & Go Renewables, initiated by Green-peace Belgium, WWF Belgium, Bond Beter Leefmilieu Vlaanderen and Inter-Environment Wallonie, is not impressed by the governments decision, which looks like a typical Belgian compromise. By extending the lifetime of the 900 MW Tihange-1 reactor with ten years, investors in new and flexible production capacity like efficient modern gas plants or renewables, will be deterred. Why should they invest in new expensive production capacity, if they will have to compete with the cheap electricity of old reactors which have been written off already for two decades? By taking only 866 MW of nuclear capacity from Doel-1 and -2 off-line in 2015, the grid will still be dominated by nuclear base-load power, making it very difficult to integrate more renewable capacity into the grid.    

Tihange-1 is a second generation PWR, build in the early 1970's. An indepen-dent review of the recent EU stress tests performed on Tihange-1 concluded: 
“Both the probability and the potential consequences of a severe accident are relatively high, therefore the risk of Tihange-1 is unjustifiably high. Consi-dering all facts, we recommend to shut down Tihange-1 immediately.” (Antonia Wenish, Oda Becker: “Critical Review of the EU Stess Test Performed on Nuclear Power Plants.” Study commissioned by Greenpeace. Wien/Hannover, May 2012.) Some 840,000 peoples are living within 30 km from the Tihange NPP, including the cities of Liège and Namur. The German city of Aachen  (260,000 inhabitants) is at 60 km, the Dutch city of Maastricht (120,000 inhabitants) is at 40 km. 

Source and contact: Eloi Glorieux, Energy campaigner Greenpeace Belgium
Email: eloi.glorieux[at]


Belgium and the END of nuclear power

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green − Nuclear Monitor editor

Belgium is a microcosm of the ageing nuclear power industry. The International Energy Agency predicts a "wave of retirements"1 − almost 200 reactor shut downs by 2040 − and argues that it is unclear whether new build will offset the "tidal wave" of reactor shut downs over the next 20 years.2 Belgium is at the sharp edge of this new nuclear era: the Era of Nuclear Decommissioning, the END.

Belgium's seven reactors − all pressurized water reactors − are all operated by Electrabel, a GDF Suez subsidiary. Electrabel owns 100% of two reactors, 89.8% of four reactors and 50% of one reactor. EDF and SPE are the other companies with ownership stakes.3

When all seven reactors were operating, they supplied about half of Belgium's electricity. All are due to be shut down by the end of 2025. Belgium's nuclear phase-out law mandates the shut down of six reactors when they have operated for 40 years − with the exception of Tihange 1, which is due to be shut down in 2025 when it has operated for 50 years.

All seven reactors have been in the news over the past year:

  • Doel 1: Shut down when its 40-year licence expired in February 2015.
  • Doel 2: Now operating but due to be shut down in December 2015. GDF Suez / Electrabel is negotiating a possible licence extension for Doel 1 and 2 to operate for another 10 years, and seeking regulatory approval.
  • Doel 3 and Tihange 2: Offline since March 2014 due to concerns about the integrity of reactor pressure vessels; future uncertain.
  • Doel 4: Offline for more than four months in 2014 due to suspected sabotage of the high-pressure turbine. Now operating.
  • Tihange 1: Now in its fortieth year of operation but licensed to operate for another 10 years. Greenpeace has initiated a legal challenge against the licence extension, because of the failure to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment and cross-boundary consultation in line with Belgium's obligations under the Espoo Convention (the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context). Court hearings are scheduled for March 24 and the judge is expected to present his verdict soon after.
  • Tihange 3: Briefly shut down following a fire in December 2014. Now operating.

Policies and politics

Nuclear power policies and laws have been in flux over the past two decades:3

  • In 1999, the government announced that reactor lifetimes would be limited to 40 years, and banned further reprocessing.
  • In 2003, the Belgian Parliament passed legislation banning the building of new power reactors and limited the operating lives of existing reactors to 40 years.
  • In 2009, the government decided to postpone the phase-out by 10 years, so that it would not begin before 2025. This would allow the licensing of reactor life extensions. Reactor operators agreed to pay a special tax of €215−245 million (US$227−259m) per year from 2010−14, and more thereafter. GDF Suez also agreed to subsidise renewables and demand-side management by paying at least €500 million (US$528m) for both, and it maintaining 13,000 jobs in energy efficiency and recycling.

However, an election in April 2010 occurred before the agreed proposals were passed by parliament and thus the nuclear phase-out law remains in place. In July 2012 Belgium's Council of Ministers announced that Doel 1 and 2 were to close in 2015 after 40 years of operation, but Tihange 1 would be permitted to operate to 2025. This was written into law in December 2013. The government said that it had rewritten the 2003 law so that its current stance could not be changed by decree, and therefore the timing of the phase-out "is now final."3,4

In December 2014 the Council of Ministers from the new ruling coalition government agreed that Doel 1 and 2 could continue operating for a further 10 years, to 2025. Energy minister Marie-Christine Marghem said that it was an "unconditional prerequisite" that the Belgian nuclear regulator − the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) − approve licence extensions for the two reactors. She noted that Belgium's planned nuclear phase-out by the end of 2025 remains in place.4

The government decision to allow Doel 1 and 2 to continue to operate for a further 10 years was partly a result of problems with other reactors − in particular the outages of Tihange 2 and Doel 3 and uncertainty about their future. GDF Suez / Electrabel is in negotiation with the Belgian government over the Doel 1 and 2 licence extensions but an agreement has not yet been reached − hence the shut down of Doel 1 in February in accordance with the nuclear phase-out law. Further, the regulator FANC has not yet approved licence extensions for Doel 1 and 2.4

GDF Suez / Electrabel is unwilling to invest up to €600−700 million (US$634−740m) in necessary upgrades to Doel 1 and 2 unless the government provides a "clear legal and economic framework" to justify the investment. Negotiations include removal of the nuclear generation tax introduced by a previous government − according to the World Nuclear Association, that tax cost the company €397 million (US$419m) in 2014.5

As Rianne Teule, campaign director for Greenpeace Belgium, put it: "In order to agree to such a large investment, Electrabel demands 'a clear legal and economic framework'. Read: 'a good deal to reduce the investment risks'. It's the Belgian people who will pay the price, one way or another. If not through increased taxes, when Electrabel's payments to the state decrease, then through increased electricity prices when Electrabel passes on their investments to their clients."6

In 2012 the government passed laws increasing the tax on nuclear operators. The government set a total contribution from nuclear operators for 2012 of €550 million (US$581m), of which Electrabel had to pay €479 million (US$506m). In June 2013 Electrabel filed an appeal to Belgium's Constitutional Court, claiming the tax violated a protocol signed by the company and the federal government in 2009, which included a lower tax, and took no account of declining revenue from nuclear power generation. In April 2014 the Court of First Instance in Brussels rejected Electrabel's claim. The company appealed, but the appeal was rejected in July 2014. Electrabel said it would continue "to examine all potential legal means in order to defend its interests" and "examine all options concerning the future of its nuclear activities in Belgium."3,7

According to Greenpeace, nuclear power is part of the energy security problem, not part of the solution: "The reason for the potential electricity supply problem is Belgium's excessive dependency (55%) on unreliable nuclear power. A political decision to extend the lifetime of two old reactors will not mitigate this acute supply problem. It will take at least a year to implement the necessary safety upgrades, and to order and fabricate new fuel for them. Extending the legally fixed phase-out calendar will undermine investment in real climate solutions such as energy efficiency and renewables."8

Tihange 2 and Doel 3 − compromised reactor pressure vessels

Doel 3 and Tihange 2 were taken offline in 2012 when ultrasound testing suggested the presence of cracks in their reactor vessels. Further investigations indicated that the defects are so-called hydrogen 'flakes'. FANC allowed Electrabel to restart the reactors in May 2013. However the reactors were again taken offline in March 2014 after Electrabel reported that tests to investigate the mechanical strength of irradiated specimens of similar material "did not deliver results in line with experts' expectations".9 FANC said that "a fracture toughness test revealed unexpected results, which suggested that the mechanical properties of the material were more strongly influenced by radiation than experts had expected."10

In January 2015, FANC said the process to restart the reactors had been extended from April to July so that Electrabel could answer further questions. In February, FANC announced that additional inspections revealed more extensive flaking within the pressure vessels of the two reactors than previously identified. FANC said 13,047 flaw indications have now been found in the vessel of Doel 3 and 3,149 in that of Tihange 2. Further test results are expected by April.1,9

FANC Director General Jans Bens said: "This may be a global problem for the entire nuclear industry. The solution is to implement worldwide, accurate inspections of all 430 nuclear power plants."11

Shortly after approving the restart of Doel 3 and Tihange 2 in May 2013 − a decision that was contested at the time and seems unwise in hindsight − Bens was seriously downplaying nuclear risks: "The harbour of Antwerp is being filled with windmills, and the chemical industry is next to it. If there is an accident like a break in one of the wings, that is a guillotine. If that goes through a chloride pipe somewhere, it will be a problem of a bigger magnitude than what can happen at Doel. Windmills are more dangerous than nuclear power plants."12

Two materials scientists have said the unexpected flaws in Doel 3 and Tihange 2 could be related to corrosion from normal operation, with potential implications for reactors worldwide. Prof. Digby MacDonald said: "The consequences could be very severe ... like fracturing the pressure vessel. Loss of coolant accident. This would be a leak before break scenario. ... My advice is that all reactor operators, under the guidance of the regulatory commissions should be required to do an ultrasonic survey of the pressure vessels. All of them." Prof. Walter Bogaerts said: "If I had to estimate, I would really be surprised if it ... had occurred nowhere else.13,14

Electrabel reacted to the latest news by saying that it may be willing to "sacrifice" one of the two reactors to allow destructive testing to learn more about the problem.15

Doel 3 and 4: Fire and sabotage

On 1 December 2014 at 10:30am, a fire began in the electrical substation transformer building at Doel and led to an emergency shutdown of reactor #3. The fire was put out by the local fire service and the reactor was restarted at 5am the following day.16 Fires at nuclear power plants pose significant risks to reactor safety due to the potential disruption of the electrical supply to vital reactor safety functions. The risks in Belgium are all the greater because of the high population density and the concentration of seven reactors at just two sites.17

Sabotage at Doel 4

The Belgium nuclear industry was shaken on 5 August 2014 when it was revealed that sabotage had caused, in Electrabel's words, "significant damage" at Doel 4. Lubricant had been discharged from the high-pressure turbine through a valve which had probably been opened deliberately by a worker. Some 6,000 professionals from 15 companies participated in the repair of the turbine. The repair involved the manufacture of 2500 blades at four plants in China, Croatia, Italy and Switzerland.18 The reactor was restarted on December 19.19

The END of nuclear power

When the last reactor is shut down in 2025, that won't be the end of Belgium's nuclear program but the beginning of the END − the Era of Nuclear Decommissioning.

In addition to the decommissioning of seven reactors, Belgians will somehow have to manage: high-level nuclear waste currently stored at Dessel and at reactor plants; larger volumes of low- and intermediate-level waste; and other nuclear facilities now in various stages of decommissioning including a MOX fuel fabrication plant and the Eurochemic reprocessing plant at Dessel.


1. International Energy Agency, 2014, 'World Economic Outlook 2014',
2. Nick Cunningham, 19 Feb 2015, 'Is There Any Hope Left For Nuclear Energy?',
3. World Nuclear Association, 17 Feb 2015, 'Nuclear Power in Belgium',
4. WNN, 12 Feb 2015, 'Belgian reactor shutdown imminent',
5. WNA Weekly Digest, 27 Feb 2015,
6. Rianne Teule, 22 Dec 2014, 'Belgium's government is Electrabel's slave',
7. World Nuclear News, 18 July 2014, 'Belgian court rejects nuclear tax complaint',
8. Eloi Glorieux, 13 Sept 2014, 'Belgium's nuclear reactors are phasing themselves out',
9. WNN, 17 Feb 2015, 'Further flaws found in Belgian reactor vessels',
10. FANC, 13 Feb 2015, 'Doel 3/Tihange 2: new update',
11. 13 Feb 2015, 'Veel meer scheuren in kerncentrales dan gedacht',
12. Justin McKeating, 23 May 2013, 'Fact not fiction: Renewable energy is safer than nuclear power',
13. Greenpeace, 17 Feb 2015, 'Thousands more cracks found in Belgian nuclear reactors, Belgian regulatory head warns of global implications',
14. Greenpeace, 15 Feb 2015, 'Nuclear Reactor Pressure Vessel Crisis',
15. Greenpeace, 17 Feb 2015, 'Thousands of cracks in Belgian reactors, potentially a global nuclear problem',
16. Greenpeace, 3 Dec 2014,
17. Bart Martens, December 2014, 'De Economische Impact van een Kernramp In Doel', study commissioned by Greenpeace Belgium,
18. WNN, 5 Dec 2014, 'Doel 4 restart approaches',
19. 19 Dec 2014, 'Doel 4 reactor reopens',

Belgium: three reactors offline

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Reactor #4 at Belgium's Doel power station shut down automatically on August 5 after "significant damage" was inflicted on a high-pressure steam turbine. The reactor will remain out of operation until at least the end of this year, Electrabel said. The reactor shut down following the loss of oil in its steam turbine. Initial inspections found that the oil had been discharged through a valve which had probably been left open by a worker, according to Electrabel. Belgium's nuclear safety regulator, the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC), said the oil loss probably resulted from "voluntary manual intervention." A spokesperson for GDF Suez, Electrabel's parent company, said the oil loss resulted from "intentional manipulation". Electrabel, FANC and the Public Prosecutor of Dendermonde municipality are investigating.1

In addition to the Doel 4 incident, the Doel 3 and Tihange 2 reactors are offline because of cracks in steel reactor casings. FANC ordered the temporary shut down of the two reactors in 2012 for inspections when ultrasound testing suggested the possible presence of cracks in their reactor vessels. Further investigations indicated that the defects are so-called hydrogen 'flakes' and were introduced during the manufacturing process.2

In early 2013, FANC set out a list of 16 requirements, with 11 to be met before the reactors could restart. Electrabel submitted an action plan and the reactors restarted in May 2013. But they were closed again in March 2014 after additional tests on hydrogen flakes suggested they may affect the mechanical properties of their reactor vessels. The latest outages were expected to last about six weeks, but the reactors remain offline awaiting the results of further tests.

Belgian state media VRT reported that interim test results show the vessels are weakened by the cracks and may need to remain closed until some time next year or may even remain shut permanently. Electrabel responded: "The tests are making good progress and it is totally premature to draw conclusions from them. The first partial results do not in any case allow us to anticipate a definitive shut down. Once tests are completed, a report will be sent to the FANC, which will in turn decide on the restart of the power plants." The Atomic Power Review blog suggests that the outcome may be ongoing operation of the reactors, but with restrictive operating limits.

In addition to safety risks and sabotage allegations, another concern is that FANC chief Jan Bens appears to have a slender grasp on reality. He said in May 2013: "The harbour of Antwerp is being filled with windmills, and the chemical industry is next to it. If there is an accident like a break in one of the wings, that is a guillotine. If that goes through a chloride pipe somewhere, it will be a problem of a bigger magnitude than what can happen at Doel. Windmills are more dangerous than nuclear power plants."3