Belgium’s Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) held an international meeting of nuclear experts on Thursday as nuclear safety chief, Willy De Roovere, confirmed that there could be thousands of cracks in the reactor vessel of the Doel 3 nuclear reactor near Antwerp, on the Dutch border.

Willy De Roovere

The EU had conducted stress tests on all of Europe’s 143 reactors in April of last year, following the Fukushima disaster, with the tests meant to assess whether a EU-based nuclear power plant could withstand, for instance, natural disasters such as earthquakes or terrorist attacks.

FANC had stated the facilities were adequate in their report to the EU at the time and have stood over the validity of the tests despite the recent findings.

“Results of the stress tests are still perfectly valid. In any case they had an altogether different purpose,” said FANC, as reported in EU Observer online.

The inspector, pictured,  said the cracks are parallel to the surface of the walls and pose no immediate threat but the large number has left him concerned, reports AFP. Repairs, he noted, would be almost impossible, as it is in the reactor vessel that the water of the main primary system flows through the core, where it is heated by the nuclear fuel.

The cracks, which possibly date back to the reactor’s construction some 40 years ago, were discovered using ultra-sound during inspections in June and July.

The reactor poses no threat to the population, workers or the surrounding environment, stated FANC. The agency says the cracks had only now been discovered because the ultra-sound inspection had never before been carried out.

Dutch company Droogdok Maatschapij (DRM), which is no longer in business, built the Doel 3 reactor vessel. The company also built another 21 casings for other reactors around the world, one other in Belgium as well as the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the US and Argentina.

Nuclear power plant

Both Belgian plants are now in shutdown mode with the authorities stressing that there is no danger to the population, worker or the environment.

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