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Belgium’s nuclear power stations a danger to neighbouring countries

Belgium’s neighbors fear a nuclear incident  ,I cover energy, environment and EU politics in Brussels  , 4 Feb 18, 

Last summer, when the Belgian government revealed that seventy new cracks had been discovered in the boiler of the country’s Tihange 2 nuclear reactor, towns near the country’s borders reacted with exasperation.

The power plant lies just 60km from the triple border where Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands meet, close to the Dutch town of Maastricht and the German town of Aachen.

These were not the first cracks to be discovered. Tihange is now more than four decades old, but it was built to only have a lifespan of 30 years. Already in 2014 an inspection found thousands of small ‘microcracks’ in the reactor. The neighboring German state of Northrhine-Westphalia became so alarmed that it ordered iodine tablets for German citizens in case of a Belgian nuclear accident.

Tihange isn’t the only plant of concern. The Doel 3 reactor, near the Belgian port city of Antwerp next to the Dutch border, also has cracks. These reactors have been subject to sudden shutdowns which have caused disruption to the Belgian electricity network. The country is 40 percent reliant on nuclear power for its electricity.

n neighboring Germany, nuclear power has remained very unpopular with the public since the 1970s. After the 2011 Fukishima nuclear disaster in Japan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to phase out nuclear power in the country for safety reasons. But Germany is powerless to do anything about nuclear plants just across its borders, which pose the same safety risks to German citizens as domestic plants would.

NEVERTHELESS, GERMAN POLITICIANS HAVE harshly criticized what they see as Belgian inaction over the safety of its aging plants. And the concern is likely to grow louder following the broadcast of a documentary this week on German television alleging a series of near-accidents at the Tihange plant.

 No cooperation

But despite the complaints from Dutch and German politicians, a report published this week found that they haven’t made much of an effort to work with their Belgian counterparts to resolve the problem. A Belgo-German cooperation group set up in 2016 has done little to change that situation, it found.

The report, published by the Dutch Safety Board, did not address the safety of the plants but instead the degree to which the three countries are working together on their maintenance and contingency plans in the event of a nuclear incident. It found that though cooperation has been set up on paper, “it probably will not run smoothly if a nuclear accident were to occur in reality.”

According to the report, preparations for an incident at the plants varies widely between the three countries. Some have iodine pills at the ready, others have evacuation instructions that differ from those that would be given to neighboring populations. In the event of an accident, the report warns, citizens would not know which set of instructions to follow.

The result, the report warns, could be “confusion and unrest” – particularly as linguistic and cultural differences are exasperated by an unfolding emergency situation.

For their part, the Belgian government insists that despite the cracks, the reactors are still perfectly safe and the temporary shutdowns have been simply due to an abundance of caution. Nevertheless, the country’s health ministry said in 2016 that it would provide iodine tablets to citizens around the plant, just in case.

While many Belgians share their neighbors’ alarm, others feel that they are being used as a political punching bag by neighboring politicians looking to score cheap points. While there is deep anti-nuclear feeling in Germany and The Netherlands, Belgium has a similarly positive attitude to the power source as its southern neighbor France.

 In the mean time, people in this triple border region don’t know who to believe. But their attitudes tend to be set by which side of the border they reside in. In the event of a nuclear accident, however, the radiation would effect them all equally.

February 5, 2018 - Posted by | EUROPE, safety

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