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Belgium: safety NPPs at risk due to liberalization

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(July 11, 2003) "The safety of the people is at risk! It is obvious that the combination of liberalization, nuclear phase out and uncertainty about the future of acknowledged authorities is not beneficial for the safety of the public in the least". A remarkable strong statement which was not made by an anti-nuclear NGO but by a Belgian authority which conducts the safety inspections at Belgian NPPs.

(590.5528) WISE Amsterdam - The Association Vincotte Nuclear (AVN) is appointed by the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC). Its working domain is the protection of workers, public and environment against radiation and AVN is especially involved in safety inspections and controls in Belgium's 7 NPPs.

On a 23 June press conference, the AVN presented its 2002 annual report and the conclusions of a Scientific and Technical Committee (STC) review. In a press release, AVN stated that the liberalization of the electricity market and the nuclear phase out plans of the government are unfavorable factors for nuclear safety.

The 2002 annual report observes the consequences of the liberalization of the electricity market: optimization of production and cost reductions. That has led to complete new structures, less engineering activities, hiring sub-contractors, etc. And as a consequence, less finances for safety, an increased instability of the electricity organization, a turbulent transitional phase and a number of social problems. The Scientific and Technical Committee already has observed an increasing amount of incidents caused by human errors.

The present phase out plans (lifetime of NPPs set at 40 years) would have resulted in the risk that less investments will be made in necessary technical and human resources and reduced motivation of workers, which is a risk for safety at an NPP.

At the same time, a new law was adopted which appointed the FANC as the formal authority for inspections. AVN considers this work as their competence and doubts whether the FANC will be able to take over inspection work from AVN. AVN doubts the professionalism in the long-term when the transition of responsibility for inspection work from AVN to FANC proceeds.

One of the provisions of the new law is that for inspection work, FANC will demand for tenders (any company can offer its services). AVN believes that nuclear inspection work is not suitable for a tender-system, because of little amount of specialized companies, the high costs of such a tender-system, the risk of price-based selection (instead of technically required inspection methods, the cheapest contractor is being chosen) and little flexibility after signing contracts (unforeseen or special circumstances during inspection work).

AVN demands the government (in quite compelling language) to revise the law. After all, it is obvious that AVN fears to loose its monopoly on inspection work and has to reorganize and make cost reductions to take part in the tender-system. Nevertheless, it has shown that due to the liberalization of the Belgian electricity market, the safety of Belgian NPPs is decreasing. In their own words: "The safety of the people is at risk!".

In a reaction to the developments, Greenpeace Belgium said that the safety of NPPs must be assured, regardless of liberalization or phase out plans. The present conflict between AVN and FANC proves that the nuclear industry is single-minded by commercial interests.


  • AVN press release and information package, 23 June 2003 (
  • email from Greenpeace Belgium, 8 July 2003

Contact: WISE Amsterdam