Belgium’s aging nuclear fleet causing concern for neighbouring nations

The Belgian government has caused unease in neighbouring countries for its decision to extend the lifetime of some of its nuclear power plants.

Representations have been made by the Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg over the safety of Belgium’s seven ageing nuclear reactors at Doel and at Tihange, largely due to safety issues associated with the fleet in recent years.
Doel nuclear plants
40-year-old reactors Doel 1 and Doel 2 have been granted extensions until 2025 under a deal to preserve jobs and invest in the transition to cleaner energy. This despite microfractures being found in the reactor pressure vessels of two plants recently causing lengthy closures. Both were restarted at the end of last year, one having to close quickly again, for a few days, after a water leak.

Luxembourg’s sustainable development minister Camille Gira and Dutch Environment Minister Melanie Schultz are making separate visits to Doel with Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon this week, while Germany’s environment minister Barbara Hendricks has sent a set of safety questions to the Belgian nuclear watchdog AFCN.

Both Electrabel and AFCN said the recent problems have only been in the non-nuclear parts of the reactor and there is no danger from the nuclear cores despite the microfractures.

“We resumed service following an audit from a US research firm, an international firm that guaranteed the structural integrity of the vessels,” Electrabel spokeswoman Florence Coppenolle told AFP when asked about the cracks.

Coppenolle said the criticism of Belgium was misdirected as the Dutch have extended by 20 years the lifespan of their reactor on the Belgian border until 2033 while nine German reactors will run until 2022.

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