— Neighbouring countries concerned about the risk of a Belgian nuclear meltdown

Global Research, January 20, 2017
The Ecologist 19 January 2017
belgium nuclear

It’s not the metaphorical political meltdown of Belgium that neighbouring governments fret about, but a nuclear meltdown. The Netherlands, Luxemburg and Germany have all asked Belgium’s government to close its most risky reactors with immediate effect. The city of Aachen and 30 other major cities and districts are also suing Belgium for not closing them. The German government no longer trusts the Belgian Nuclear Safety Agency and wants permission for its own agency to do safety checks. So far, foreign pressure is falling on deaf ears.

Belgians have even more reasons to worry. On 10 January 2017 a new emergency plan was presented in a commission in Belgium’s Parliament. The evacuation perimeter was conveniently halved to 10km to avoid an evacuation of Belgium’s second and third cities in case of a meltdown. Nuclear Transparency Watch, a European organisation created by Members of the European Parliament of all political colours, called Belgium’s plans totally inadequate and incoherent.inad

So rather than signing agreements with Belgium about sharing information, where are the sanctions for Belgium? There are both EU and UN regulations that could shut the reactors down, as more than a million people requested a year ago. Belgium’s neighbours have reasons to get tough.

Belgium is your backyard

Belgium’s recent nuclear history reads like a mirror of Germany’s, where the highest court decided that Merkel’s decision to speed up the nuclear phase-out after the Fukushima incident was justified. Belgium did just the opposite. The Belgian government reversed a nuclear phase-out law from 2003 only a year after the Japanese reactors exploded, pushing retirement back from 2015 to 2025. The last bill to postpone retirement with 10 years was approved at the end of 2016. The Government can ‘take comfort’ at the fact that 2017 started better than 2016: in 2016, the first ‘incident’ happened just two days into the New Year on January 2; in 2017 the first incident (in which one person got severely injured) took place eight days later on January 10 with an unexpected shutdown as result.

Yes, the protesting former president of the European Parliament Martin Schulz was born and raised close to Belgium’s border and yes, I was born and raised 15 km from four nuclear reactors in Doel, in the city of Antwerp (half a million people). But before you call us NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) activists: our backyard contains six to seven million people that in the event of a nuclear meltdown would never be able to go home again. Depending on the wind direction on the day of a meltdown, a radioactive cloud will poison additional people in London, Paris, Amsterdam or Aachen as well. The possibility of that scenario has increased in recent years.

Cracks, extortion and sabotage 

In 2012 it became known that the mantle around the old Tihange 2 reactor shows signs of erosion. Further research in 2015 concluded that there are thousands of cracks of up to 15 cm. Later that year, 10 security incidents were recorded in Tihange in just six weeks, leading Belgium’s nuclear safety agency to suspend four members of staff and raise serious questions about the safety culture. In 2015, Belgian’s nuclear plants spent longer in shutdown or “maintenance” than in being operational.

Who said nuclear energy was a reliable source of energy?

But it is the Doel plant that reads like the script of an apocalyptic Hollywood blockbuster, part one. The plant was sabotaged in 2014. The sabotage was found before things spiralled out of control, but the culprit(s) remain unknown. A year later, police found hidden cameras that followed the movements of a nuclear researcher, raising alarming questions about criminals extorting staff. Research also revealed a staggering number of cracks in the mantle that is supposed to keep the Doel 3 reactor in check: 13,047. The cracks are on average 1 to 2 cm wide, but the largest ones are up to 18cm. And with 35 years of operational history, the researched Doel 3 is the second “youngest” of Doel’s four reactors. Belgium’s nuclear safety agency concluded after the tests in Tihange and Doel that the erosion of the mantle was due to normal reactor activity. They can thus be expected to be present in all plants in the world of similar age and to keep multiplying through normal reactor use.

The economic and terrorist threats

In terms of potential economic impacts, Doel is by far number 1 in Europe. The major Fukushima disaster knocked 2 to 10% from Japan’s GDP, but when Doel goes into meltdown, the cost is estimated to be 200% of the GDP of Belgium. In such a scenario, GDP won’t really mean much. Most of Flanders and the capital of Europe will become inhabitable zones, sending millions of refugees to France, The Netherlands, Germany and the UK. Will they open their borders for a flood of immigrants from Belgium?

And then there’s terrorism. For the last two years, Belgian authorities have claimed we are living under emergency level 3, just one notch below the State of Emergency that France is living under. This means a terrorist threat is “serious” and an attack “probable”. France has already experienced a series of undeclared drone flights over various nuclear power stations. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists later explained that the danger of that is not about drones carrying small explosives and crashing on the plant because in theory a nuclear plant can cope with a jumbo jet crash (although this has never been tested). But drones can easily carry AK47s and drop them inside the territory of the plant, even at night.

In another scenario laid out by the atomic scientists, drones can attack the power lines and then the diesel generator back-up system. It requires a bit more organisation than driving a truck into a crowd, but less than teaching a terrorist team how to fly a jumbo jet, hijack several at the same time and fly them into the two WTC towers and the Pentagon. As we have learned the hard way in recent years, Belgium also happens to be a favourite hide-out for terrorists. Belgium’s authorities want us to believe that the terrorist risk has never been so high, but they don’t want you to connect that with our nuclear plants and with unexplained drone flights over nuclear plants.

Corrupted centralised power plants

All this raises the question: is it still smart to count on a few vulnerable centralised power plants? And what about the waste of state money that seems to come hand-in-hand with nuclear power? Bulgaria wasted 1,221 billion euro on a plant that never materialized. Bulgaria is also still spending money to deal with the legacy of uranium mining, even though the last mine closed in 1992. When I visited the surroundings of the now closed Buhovo mine, stones of a size that would fit a child’s hand showed radiation 100s of times above normal. They were ready to be picked up and played with at a popular local picnic place.

Conflicts against nuclear power plants and the formulation of constructive alternatives are popping up outside Europe as well: from India to Japan. So are the conflicts and externalised costs around the uranium that now feeds most of our reactors, from Niger to Namibia. Although there’s one other country that has become the EU’s main supplier: Russia. But as environmental justice, geopolitical weakening or financial debacles don’t seem to stop the nuclear addiction: will it have to take another meltdown? Policymakers seem to have forgotten that our countries signed up to the precautionary principle, which the EU still has in its Treaty. Maybe it’s time that the Germans, who are kicking nuclear out of their country, march once more on Belgium. As a Belgian citizen I do kindly request to come in peace and only armed with the renewable energy solutions that swept your country.

Nick Meynen was the organiser of a 72km long anti-nuclear energy march from Doel to Brussels. He works for the ENVJUSTICE project and writes articles and books on environmental issues.

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Breaking: Belgian nuclear power plants evacuated following airport and train station terrorist attacks

From ENE News
March 22, 2016
BREAKING: Belgian nuclear power plants evacuated” after terror attacks — Multiple reactor sites cleared “amid heightened fears of another attack” — Military and armed police on scene — Capitol on lockdown after dozens killed — “Dismembered bodies everywhere… It’s like the apocalypse” (VIDEO)

Xinhua, Mar 22, 2016 (emphasis added): Urgent: Nuclear power plant in southeast Belgium evacuated — Employees of the Tihange nuclear power plant [have] been evacuated, according to reports from Flemish media outlet VTM. The causes for the evacuation were not immediately made known. The threat level in Belgium has been raised to the highest level 4 from the previous level 3 following explosions at Brussels airport and on a city subway train…

Reuters, Mar 22, 2016: Belgium’s Tihange nuclear power plant evacuated-VTM — Belgium’s Tihange nuclear power plant has been evacuated, public broadcaster VTM said without giving further details. Tihange could not immediately be reached for comment. “The police have evacuated the Tihange nuclear station,” VTM said, citing police sources.

Reuters, Mar 22, 2016: Belgian nuclear plants Doel and Tihange partly evacuated — Staff not essential for the running of nuclear plants in Doel and Tihange in Belgium have been evacuated… the evacuation was part of a set of safety measures related to the high security alert in the country… Belgian broadcaster VTM said earlier Tihange had been evacuated following the attacks.

The Mirror, Mar 22, 2016: Brussels attacks: Tihange nuclear power plant evacuated after dozens killed in terror attack… A major nuclear power plant in Belgium has been partially evacuated following this morning’s terror attacks. Workers at the Tihange nuclear power plant are now leaving the building… Two explosive devices ripped through Brussels airport in the departure hall, then a third blast hit a metro station in the city centre… officials have declared the Belgium capital city is on “lockdown”. One witness described seeing ‘dismembered bodies everywhere’ after the ceiling collapsed in the airport building… Samir Derrouich said: “The two explosions were almost simultaneous. They were both at check in desk. One was close to the Starbucks. It was awful. There was just blood. It was like the apocalypse.”

The Express, Mar 22, 2016: BREAKING: Belgian nuclear power plants evacuated after Brussels terror attack; TWO nuclear power plants in Belgium have been evacuatedThe Tihange power plant… and the Doel power plant in Antwerp have been cleared amid heightened fears of another attack. Security has been stepped up at both Doel, which houses four reactors, and Tihange, which houses three. Armed police and the Belgian military have been on site since the weekend… Energy company Engie said all non-essential staff had been evacuated at the request of Belgian authoritiesBelgian authorities are braced for a follow-up attack… French Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared Europe was “at war”…

Politco, Mar 22, 2016: Energy utility Electrabel has stepped up security at Belgium’s two nuclear power plants, following the attacks in Brussels Tuesday. The two plants — Doel, made up of four reactors, and Tihange, with three — have been closed, with “systematic control” of all vehicles coming and going, Anne-Sophie Hugé, a company spokeswoman told POLITICO…

BNO, Mar 22, 2016: [A]uthorities have confirmed at least 34 dead and 187 injured… Belgium has been put on its highest terror alert level… Brussels has been brought to a virtual standstill… Tihange nuclear power plant in Huy in the Belgian province of Liege has been evacuated, according to local police, but there is no word on the cause. Nuclear watchdog FANC says nuclear power plants are operating at minimum capacity until further notice.

Zee Media (India), Mar 22, 2016: Belgium’s Tihange nuclear plant evacuated, reports Belgian media… A pro-Islamic State group Twitter handle… threatened more attacks: “Expect more bombs, more death! in future also.” Pro-Islamic State group praises Brussels bombings, warns of more attacks… Belgian authorities urge media blackout on ‘ongoing investigations’ after attacks…

Watch video of the attacks here

http://enenews.com/breaking-belgian-nuclear-power-plants-evacuated-after-terror-attacks-multiple-reactor-sites-cleared-amid-heightened-fears-another-attack-military-armed-police-scene-capital-city-lockdown-afte

Belgian nuclear reactors riddled with 16,000 unexplained cracks

From the Ecologist
by Oliver Tickell
18th February 2015

The discovery of over 16,000 cracks in two Belgian reactor vessels may have global implications for nuclear safety, says the country’s nuclear safety chief. He and independent experts are calling for the immediate checks of nuclear reactor vessels worldwide.

The safety of every nuclear reactor on the planet could be significantly compromised … What we are seeing in Belgium is potentially devastating for nuclear reactors globally due to the increased risk of a catastrophic failure.

Thousands of cracks have been found in the steel reactor pressure vessels in nuclear reactors Doel 3 and Tihange 2 in Belgium – vessels contain highly radioactive nuclear fuel cores.

The failure of these components can cause catastrophic nuclear accidents with massive release of radiation.

The pervasive – and entirely unexpected – cracking could be related to corrosion from normal operation, according to leading material scientists Professor Walter Bogaerts and Professor Digby MacDonald.

Speaking on Belgian TV, Professor 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, in which case before a fracture of a pipe occurred … you would see a jet of steam coming out through the insulation.

“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.”

Professor Bogaerts added:

“If I had to estimate, I would really be surprised if it … had occurred nowhere else … I am afraid that the corrosion aspects have been underestimated.”

Jan Bens, Director-General of the Belgian nuclear regulator the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC),  has said that this could be a problem for the entire nuclear industry globally – and that the solution is to begin the careful inspection of 430 nuclear power plants worldwide.

An unexplained embrittlement

The problem was discovered in the summer of 2012. Both the Doel 3 and Tihange 2 reactors have been shut down since March 24th, 2014 after additional tests revealed an unexplained advanced embrittlement of the steel of the test sample.

At the time the reactors’ operator, Electrabel, dismissed the cracks as being the result of manufacturing problems during construction in the late 1970’s in the Netherlands – but provided no supporting evidence.

FANC also stated that the most likely cause was manufacturing – but added that it could be due to other causes. Following the further tests FANC has now issued a statement confirming that the additional 2014 tests revealed 13,047 cracks in Doel 3 and 3,149 in Tihange 2.

“In carrying out tests related to theme 2 during the spring of 2014, 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. As a precaution both reactors were immediately shut down again.”

As nuclear reactors age, radiation causes pressure vessel damage, or embrittlement, of the steel mostly as a result of the constant irradiation by neutrons which gradually destroys the metal atom by atom – inducing radioactivity and transmutation into other elements.

Another problem is that hydrogen from cooling water can migrate into reactor vessel cracks. “The phenomenon is like a road in winter where water trickles into tiny cracks, freezes, and expands, breaking up the road”, says Greenpeace Belgium energy campaigner Eloi Glorieux.

“It appears that hydrogen from the water within the vessel that cools the reactor core is getting inside the steel, reacting, and destroying the pressure vessel from within.”

He adds that the findings mean that “the safety of every nuclear reactor on the planet could be significantly compromised … What we are seeing in Belgium is potentially devastating for nuclear reactors globally due to the increased risk of a catastrophic failure.”

Immediate action needed to prevent another catastrophe

On February 15th the nuclear reactor operator, Electrabel (GDF / Suez parent company) announced that it would be prepared to “sacrifice” one of its reactors to conduct further destructive tests of the reactor pressure vessel in order to study this poorly understood and extremely concerning damage phenomenon.

Electrabel’s findings will be submitted to FANC which will organize a new meeting of the international panel of experts to obtain their advice on the results of the new material tests and on the new data.

According to Electrabel, the findings constitute a “Level 1 occurrence on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES)” but the company emphasises that the event “has no impact whatsoever on the wellbeing or health of the employees, the local residents, or the surrounding area.”

But Glorieux dismisses such complacency:

“As we approach the fourth anniversary of the Fukushima-daiichi nuclear disaster, evidence has emerged that demands immediate action to prevent another catastrophe. Thousands of previously unknown cracks in critical components of two reactors point to a potentially endemic and significant safety problem for reactors globally.

“Nuclear regulators worldwide must require reactor inspections as soon as possible, and no later than the next scheduled maintenance shutdown. If damage is discovered, the reactors must remain shut down until and unless safety and pressure vessel integrity can be guaranteed. Anything less would be insane given the risk of a severe nuclear accident”

There are 435 commercial nuclear reactors worldwide, with an average age of 28.5 years in mid 2014. Of these, 170 reactors (44 percent of the total) have been operating for 30 years or more and 39 reactors have operated for over 40 years. As of 2015, Doel 3 has been operating for 33 years; Tihange 2 for 32 years.

Oliver Tickell edits The Ecologist.

http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_round_up/2758982/belgian_nuclear_reactors_riddled_wi%20th_16000_unexplained_cracks.html

Nuclear power safety issue at Belgian border draws big Dutch interest

From Netherland Times
by January 20, 2016

Doel Nuclear Power Plant (Source: Wikimedia/Ad Meskens)

At least 200 people attended a meeting in Bergen op Zoom on Tuesday to find out what is going on with the Belgian nuclear power plants. Dutch residents are concerned about their safety due to the growing number of incidents and stations such as Doel, just across the border from Bergen op Zoom, Omroep Brabant reports.

The meeting was organized by various environmental organizations from the Netherlands and Belgium. Attendees included people from Zeeland, Bergen op Zoom, Woensdrecht and Steenbergen.

The attendees were particularly concerned about the safety of the nuclear power plants. Incidents over the past year at the Doel plants included a sudden shutdown, an explosion and sabotage. The Doel plants started operating in 1975 and were intended to close last year, after 40 years of service. But the Belgian government decided to extend the operation until 2025.

“They should stop with the nuclear power as soon as possible. The Belgians must be able to see that they’re playing with fire”, one of the meeting attendees said to the broadcaster.

“We see that the incidents continue to pile up, there is a problem with the sabotage of Doel 4, which to this day has not been resolved and we also have a nuclear reactor with cracks”, Sara van Dyck of the Belgian Fund Better Environment. I think the concerns are certainly justified.”

Nuclear power safety issues at Belgian border draws big Dutch interest

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German region protests, fears Fukushima-style disaster after Belgium restarts aging reactor

From Japan Times

December 16, 2015

Belgian power utility Electrabel restarted an aging nuclear reactor Tuesday after a near two-year shutdown, angering neighboring Germany, which fears the danger of a Fukushima-style meltdown.

Electrabel said it put the Tihange 2 reactor back on line “in complete safety,” despite opposition from officials in adjacent North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state.

Belgium has been hit by a series of nuclear mishaps in recent years, with three of the country’s seven reactors at one point closed, due in two of the cases to the discovery of micro-cracks in the reactor casings.

The Belgian nuclear authority gave the greenlight to relaunch Tihange 2, as well as another reactor near Antwerp, in November, giving Electrabel permission to operate the plant until its legislated final closure date in 2023.

Garrelt Duin, North Rhine-Westphalia’s economy minister, had warned strongly against the relaunch of Tihange, calling it outright “irresponsible.

Four of Germany’s 10 biggest cities — Cologne, Düsseldorf, Dortmund and Essen—- are located within the state.

The city of Aachen, only 60 km (40 miles) from Tihange, said it had explored legal options to stop the reopening but without success.

Germany, unlike Belgium and France, decided to phase out what was a substantial nuclear energy program after the 2011 disaster in Fukushima.

At the time, Belgium also committed to a withdrawal from nuclear power but has since scaled back its ambitions due to a lack of reliable alternatives.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/12/16/world/german-region-protests-fears-fukushima-style-disaster-belgium-restarts-aging-reactor/

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