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Nuclear hazards extend beyond a nation’s borders: Belgium a case in point

safety-symbol-Smflag-EUBelgium’s neighbors concerned about nuclear safety, DW 18 Jan 16  Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg are all concerned about the re-starting of Belgian nuclear reactors. The government there promises better communication, but seems to feel little urgency to act.

One and a half hours by car – that’s how long it takes to drive from the site of Belgium’s nuclear reactors at Tihange to neighboring Luxembourg. One and a half hours, or 160 kilometers (100 miles), that’s not enough to put the mind of Luxembourg’s state secretary for infrastructure at ease. Which is why Camille Gira, together with parliamentarians and nuclear safety and health experts, came to Brussels on Monday, to meet Belgium’s interior minister, Jan Jambon, for an “exchange of views.”

“We had a couple of questions concerning the safety of Tihange 2,” spokesman Olaf Münichsdorfer told DW, “and we wanted to remind our Belgian counterparts that our citizens are also at risk should there be a nuclear accident there.”

Cracks prompted temporary shut-down

The Tihange 2 reactor had been shut down since March, 2014, following the discovery of tiny cracks in the reactor’s pressure vessel. But in November 2015, the Belgian nuclear authority saw “no obstacle” to restarting the reactor, which became operational again at the end of December 2015.

A recent study commissioned by the Green party group in the European parliament, on the other hand, said the steel used in the pressure vessels was of such poor quality that – had this been known at the time of licensing- the reactor would never have been allowed to start operations. “How is it then possible to license the continuation of the power plants now that we are aware of all these problems,” wondered the Greens EU parliament co-president Rebecca Harms……….

Aside from raising worries in Luxembourg, re-starting the Tihange 2 reactor has sparked great concern in neighboring Germany. With the city of Aachen a mere 70 kilometers from Tihange, some 100,000 citizens in the region had signed a petition initiated by anti-nuclear activists to stop the reactor from going on the grid again – to no avail. Aachen’s authorities are set to brief the public about the current situation, as well as about emergency plans, later this month………

For their part, citizens in neighboring Netherlands are also worried about another nuclear site called Doel. Same as at the Tihange 2 reactor, tiny cracks have also been found at the Doel 3 reactor’s pressure vessel, causing it to be taken off the grid until its restart shortly before the end of the year.

Only a short while later, the plant was closed again for a few days, after a water leak.

The Doel site is also home to Belgium’s oldest reactor, Doel 1, which had been shut down in February 2015, following its 40th anniversary. But the government then decided to extend the lives of Doel 1 and Doel 2 by another 10 years.

Widespread concern has prompted the Dutch minister for infrastructure, Melanie Schultz, to schedule a visit to Doel this Wednesday, together with Belgian Interior Minister Jambon, accompanied by inspectors from the Dutch nuclear authority……….

In Belgium itself, the scientific council of the nuclear authority – known by the initials of its Flemish name, ‘FANC’ – last Friday issued a report proposing to revise existing nuclear emergency plans.

potassium-iodate-pillsOne recommendation is to distribute iodine pills to the entire Belgian population. Current plans limit the distribution of such pills to people living within a 20-kilometer-radius of nuclear sites.

The scientific body also recommends extending the safety zone around nuclear sites. Then, people living within 20 instead of 10 kilometers from a nuclear site would have to remain in their homes for 24 hours, with doors and windows closed.Already in March, 2015, Belgium’s National Health Council (CSS) had recommended distributing at no cost iodine pills to people living within a radius of 100 kilometers of nuclear plants………

on the whole, the Belgian government seems rather unfazed by the security concerns raised by its neighbors.

According to Jan Vande Putte of Greenpeace Belgium, that has to do with the fact that Belgium’s main utilities provider, Electrabel, still has a strong influence over politicians, especially in the country’s French speaking region of Wallonia – an influence dating back to the times when the state-owned utilities provider was the only player in the country’s energy market.

“This influence has declined over the past years, but it’s still there,” says Vande Putte. And, he adds, there is another interdependency to take into account: that between the nuclear authority and the nuclear sector………

January 19, 2016 - Posted by | EUROPE, safety

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