Sunday, May 19, 2013

Belgium's Two Nuclear Reactors with Cracks Are Good to Restart, Minister Says Government Does Not Have Power To Interfere with "Independent" Regulator and Operator

These days, things nuclear look almost serene compared to the (soap) scums in the political world (here and here in Japan, here and here and here in the US, for some examples).

But that's probably because political scums are used to mask problems that cannot be fixed.

Belgium, having to rely on nuclear power for more than 50% of electricity, has declared two reactors safe to operate whose Reactor Pressure Vessels were found with thousands of small cracks in August 2012 (see my post for one of them).

Why? Because there is no way to fix the cracks now (besides, the company that made the vessels went out of business), and Belgium needs electricity.

From Reuters (5/17/2013):

UPDATE 1-Belgian regulator clears GDF to restart nuclear reactors

* A third of Belgium's nuclear capacity closed since last yr

* Reactors should restart in 2-3 weeks (Recasts with regulator confirmation)

By Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS, May 17 (Reuters) - Belgium's nuclear safety regulator has given approval for GDF Suez to restart two nuclear reactors closed last year over safety concerns, it said in a report on Friday.

"The Federal Agency for Nuclear Control considers that the Doel 3 and Tihange 2 reactor units can be restarted safely," the report said.

It added that all of the safety concerns had been resolved satisfactorily.

Belgium halted the 1,006-megawatt (MW) Doel 3 reactor in August last year after indications of cracks were discovered on the core tank during ultrasound checks.

A month later, it found similar flaws on the 1,008-MW Tihange 2 after it tested the tank during a routine stoppage, leaving Belgium without a third of its nuclear power generation capacity.

It will take two to three weeks to restart the reactors, a spokeswoman for GDF Suez's Belgian division Electrabel said following the decision.

According to Asahi Shinbun who reported the news in Japan, Doel 3 reactor has over 8,000 small cracks, and Tihange 2 has over 2,000. They conducted the tolerance test to ensure safety, according to Asahi.

Greenpeace is vowed to sue the Belgium government, according to Euronews (5/17/2013):

Greenpeace are threatening to sue the Belgian government. The leading environmental activist network is threatening legal action after Belgium’s nuclear safety regulator gave the green light to GDF Suez to go ahead and restart two nuclear reactors.

However, during a news conference, the Belgian Interior Minister, Joelle Milquet claimed that the government does not have the power to block the move.

The independent regulator provides technical advice to an operator on the restarting of its operations. We do not have the ability to interfere in the decision, because it is an independent operator,” he said.

Last year two nuclear reactors were closed after safety concerns were flagged up in their their tanks, during an ultrasound check.

Greenpeace says it is the government’s responsibility to guarantee the safety of the Belgian people.

“We will summon the government for the lack of decent emergency plan and at the same time they increase the risks of a nuclear accident,” says Greenpeace Belgium energy campaigner Eloi Glorieux.

So while a legal battle may be brewing reactors, Doel 3 and Tihange 2 could be back up and running within 3 weeks, now that Belgium’s nuclear watchdog claims all issues have been resolved.

What does the minister mean, the government does not have the power to block the move? Ensuring the safety of things like nuclear reactors is one of the few remaining good things that a government should do.

In contrast, Switzerland's Mühleberg Nuclear Power Plant has a huge crack in the core shroud inside the Reactor Pressure Vessel, and the license to operate is set to be withdrawn by the court order in June this year.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting news about Belgium's nuclear insanity. Yes, this story is unfortunately totally true.

Doel 3 (very close to Antwerp, Belgium) and Tihange 2 (near Liege) have had a prolonged delay of restart after many cracks in the reactor vessel had been found during maintenance. this was actually the first time these kind of 'tests' (a rather normal procedure) had been applied. Imagine. (No news about the other reactors) Further investigations and foreign expert consultancy were conducted; resulting in quite negative recommendations demanding more analysis and suggesting criteria for 'safe' restart, etc. A well known German expert even claimed it would be rather unsafe to commence restart without further research, even to restart them at all. These critical 'in between' reports have been leaked by energy specialist of the Flemish Green party, Kristof Calvo (see and

However, it's not a secret the new president of the regulator (FANC) is an Electrabel pro-nuke boy, he actually was on Electrabel's pay-roll. this is how it works apparantly, the USA or Belgium. Anyway, electrabel is now property of Suez (France) and is related to the nuke industry in many ways, notably their Belgian nuke power stations, which have been pure profit machines since the early '90's. To give an impression of the current atmosphere, the president of the regulator, FANC, claimed a few days ago that "windmills are more dangerous than nuclear power stations" (he really said this), creating a lot of fuzz of course.

Those nuclear power stations, Doel 3 and especially Tihange 2, are rather old power horses, dating the '70 and 80's and have been controversial for many years. Some experts claim they're dangerous, Tihange has leaks and an alleged unsafe vessel closure, etc. However, seen the immense influence of Electrabel and Suez, and the lack of a well-thought energy policy (which was a total disaster, only creating a so called 'free market' with consumer prices exploding, creating monopolies and thereby blocking off the development of durable, real green energy sources etc) and the so called energy shortages due to the shutdown and lack of alternatives and the financial/budget problems in Belgium in general, the restart of these reactors have been pushed, quite clearly, in a rather obscure, non-transparant undemocratic way. Those power stations are pure cash-cows and the government gets lots of taxes, etc.

It's going to be Russian roulette. No kidding. This is maybe why the Belgian Prime minister, Di Rupo, started stuttering when questions about safety were asked a few days ago. He has a phd in nuclear chemistry (or something) and he probably 'knows'. Also, the government should indeed have a last call, the decision is theirs, however, interestingly they tell us otherwise, contradicting FANC's FAQ and so on. It's well-known fact the goverment has a last call... Horseshit in other words. Greenpeace is suing the government. But reality is, Tihange is already near its construction lifetime, has issues, has cracks but is nevertheless planned to function many more years. If something with Doel happens, we can kiss Antwerp goodbye, Tihange could contaminate parts of Holland, Germany, the city of Liege particularly...

Fukushima may have never happened in Japan. It surely did not in Belgium. People, with some exception, seem to have difficulties to grasp the fact that nuke power is dirty, dangerous and extremely, very much expensive.


Anonymous said...

I forgot to mention that the same dangerous logic, such as absurd safety myths and a lack of emergency/evacuation plans (one of Fukishima disaster's major issues) is yet happening in Belgium.


Atomfritz said...

Thank you LaPrimavera and Michael for this info!

Belgium is a really sad example of how the nuclear industry can take a whole country hostage.

First they make the country dependent on nuclear energy, and then they milk it until the worn-out nuclear plants finally break, leaving the country/its people to deal with the contaminated land and the nuclear waste.

This is even more true when the nuclear plants are owned by foreign companies, which give a sh!t about the well-being of the country.

To Suez, respective the French, the situation is really comfortable: due to the prevalent wind directions, France is least likely to be contaminated when the Belgian reactors finally break.
Flemish and Germans will probably take most damage. How convenient...

As there seem to be no emergency planning in Belgium, Belgian people probably will try to exodus from Belgium when the nuclear plume rises from the Tihange or Doel accident site and covers most of Belgium with intensely radioactive smog. Belgium is a small country and there is no much room to evacuate. Belgians thus will try to flee in masses to Germany, Netherlands and France. These countries will have no choice than to close the borders using the military to prevent contamination spread to still-clean areas.
Thus, in case of an accident, whole Belgium could become some sort of refugee concentration camp, with people cramping in the least-contaminated regions of the country.

Anonymous said...

There were 439 nuclear power reactors in operation in the world, operating in 31 ... However, many have now ceased operation in the wake of the Fukushima. Most are nearing their planned operating lifetime. It is increasingly evident that these systems put enormous strain on the materials from which they are made. This comparison to "ticking time bombs" is reality. The likelihood that one of these is going to go off increases with each passing day. When this happens it will be like a large asteroid from space impacting in terms of the damage it will wreck upon surrounding area. Good luck with that.

Anonymous said...

They should start them and run them at FULL POWER. I so sick of hearing about cracks and these clowns saying, everything is safe.

Ok, lets make believe it is. Now, the people saying its safe, need to bring their families and make sure to lean against the "safe" reactor.

If Belgium goes what? Leave if you don't like living near nukes! You people allowed them to build these death machines years ago. Next time, don't believe the bullshit they spew.

Just like they are now.....

Anonymous said...

The problem in Belgium is not only Doel with its four nuclear reactors, or Tihange with its three reactors. Belgium is surrounded by old nuclear power plants (NPP), in France notably, but in also Holland (Borsele NPP). In France, the Chooz NPP has had a severe audit years ago, where the regulator mentioned a "culture of neglect and unsafe handling" including a rather rich history of incidents, like elsewhere in France btw. Problem is, Chooz is practically on Belgian territory. Any serious problem will have severe consequences.

(EU NPP map:
(Chooz NPP
(Borsele NPP

So yes, I hold my breath and really consider the words of an expert saying that the next nuclear disaster will probably be in the EU, because of the aging and outdated technology and amount of NPP's. The recent push to keep open old reactors (such as Tihange 1, which dates from 1973 and will be functional until 2025! Insane! Sigh...) could lead to disaster indeed.

And yes, in Belgium, any severe accident means 'no exit', Belgium and especially the Flanders region is densely populated. An evacuation zone of 20/30 km is simply impossible. I can't even imagine the consequences. Still, nuke power is considered that safe that even no evacuation plans are necessary. 'Seeds of dystopia'. It's insane. completely mad.

But resistance is mounting as well... Let's hope.

Anonymous said...

There is one mistake in this post: Mühleberg is set to continue operating at least into 2017:
The court ruling demanding closure was overturned by the top court, in a surprisingly honest judgement: they said it is not reasonable to expect "zero" risk.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that if you close NPPs in Europe. the gap is mostly filled by old coal plants (as seen in Germany). Coal in Europe kills close to 19'000 people/year (yes, that's more or less one Tohoku earthquaque + tsunami, every year!):
Somehow, Germans are hysterically afraid of NPPs, but have no problem gassing ca. 3'000 (that's their share) per year with coal. Tradition, maybe…

Anonymous said...

Many countries have independent government agencies. For example in Sweden a minister cannot tell an agency to do anything, it's illegal. Laws rule and not individual ministers. The agencies follow the laws and if the minister is unhappy he/she can go to the parlament and try to change it. Given Belgium's far from excellent trac record on corruption, independent agencies is imho something positive.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 11:56AM, the law is there to ultimately protect citizens, and the politicians' duty is to make it so. If following the law for the sake of following the law is the most important and wonderful thing, no one should be complaining about Fukushima accident and the aftermath. Everybody followed the law, from NISA, TEPCO, government, all the way down to the truck driver carrying batteries who wouldn't go on a highway without a proper government permit.

Anonymous said...

@12:17: I wouldn't say "everybody followed the law".
The law is more or less the same in all countries and all activities - safety agencies should maintain, update and enforce standards. For the nuclear field, this means issues such as:
- External risk (e.g. earthquake & tsunami) evaluation
- Redundant cooling
- Mitigation of hydrogen evolution
- Safe filtered venting
One can't really say NISA fared very well in this regard…

Anonymous said...

Anon at 1:24PM, NISA did all that. All according to the book, properly. All legal and legit.

Law and regulation are to let the large industry players know where the loopholes are.

Anonymous said...

According to World Nuclear News, an industry source, the cracks (flakes) are hydrogen bubbles that are there since manufacturing. Apparently no operator realized that for 30 years, or so they tell us.

By the way, according to Wikipedia on Tihange, the government of Belgium had the power to extend the operating life of Tihange 1 by 20 years beyond its original design life of 30 (whereas now it claims it has no power to delay the restarts).

Would you board an elevator designed for 30 people if you were the 50th person to get on it?


Anonymous said...

and filtered vent was not mandated by law or regulation.

Anonymous said...

Don't the 'deciders' get it yet? When the reactors and SFPs melt, there is no 'chosen people' magically spared anything. All humanity suffers incl. those very special people on top the pyramid. Nuclear power is irrational, delusional, and a ticking time bomb as continued operation makes everything worse every single day it goes on.
Do fools really believe that if something is invisible like ionizing radiation, it does not exist?

Many other myths rule and animate the world today offloaded on us by a thoroughly corrupt and insane technocracy.

But I know yall here already know that. Personally I have chosen to relocate as far as possible away from NPPs. Evacuation would be a tragedy, and my choice is preventative. People would lose their homes and everything they once believed in. Can't we do a family of man "intervention" to stop the mad hierarchy forcing this crap on everyone? Prosecution needs to begin of the culprits. Public outcry is needed at all levels.

There are so many alternatives to nuclear energy, but usually they are not pursued. Some of us actually live very well off grid. We run lots of electrical motors off solar, no problem. Wake up, the alternatives do not melt down.

Anonymous said...

@Anon at 11:56AM "Given Belgium's far from excellent trac record on corruption, independent agencies is imho something positive".

Thank you for your rather cliche remark about Belgium. Every cliche holds its truth I guess, but you are missing the point and you seem to refer merely to ideas and theory than to harsh realities of the nucleocracy.

First of all, the Belgian regulator is independent except concerning big issues like prolonging licenses, closures and probably issues related to public safety too.

But even if the FANC was entirely "independent", it is ruled today by somebody with clear ties to the nuke and Big Money industry, as I mentioned before. Actually we can see this kind of "independence" at other regulators too, the NRC for example.

Being independent, as in institution, is great, but depends on how you define the concept. The question here is whether the policy being applied and the people working at the regulators are "independent" as well. Being independent is much more than having no hierarchical lines with governments. So far theory I guess.

(Btw, did you know that Sweden escaped a severe meltdown in 2006 within minutes, and that it happened a few years after dumping the Swedisch civil nuke industry in a free market logic? Are you sure about the Swedish regulator's "independence"?


Anonymous said...

@Anon 11:28
Yes, that is a problem. However, Germany, as far as I know, has been working for many years already on the creation of durable energy sources, which produce yet a vast and impressive amount of energy replacing a multitude of NPP's and coal plants. So it's not all the way 'hooray coal' in Germany, on the contrary. Germans are quite 'green', my impression.

In Belgium, 16.000 people decease every year due to air pollution, mostly traffic generated smog and small dust particles (Belgium is diesel-crazy unfortunately, another 'madness'). These figures have been verified by multiple medical panel studies. So, to put your coal figures in perspective...

You also seem to imply that nuke energy is 'more' clean. It is not. Not even carbon neutral, for instance check how the fuel for NPP's is being made. Far from durable, very dirty, consuming shitloads of dirty energy too. very polluting, etc. Not to mention the environmental/carbon costs of building the plant.

Anonymous said...

burgenland rulez... 100% wind energy, forever...

Anonymous said...

Law in Japan says that general population should not take more than 1mSv/yr from civilian sources (excluding medical). Kids in Fukushima are told they can take 20 mSv/yr and have no entitlement to evacuation.
Law in Japan says that utilities are responsible for cleanup after nuclear disasters; is Tepco abiding it?
Law in Japan sets limits on the maximum contamination of food, land and sea; contamination from Fukushima is a huge multiple of such limits (million times the limit in some cases, if I recall correctly)

Fukushima has shown that law is powerless in the face of nuclear disasters and in the face of the nuclear lobby.


Anonymous said...

@Michael 11:56: Sweden didn't "escape a severe meltdown within minutes" - that's pure legend (even Fukushima didn't melt down so fast)! You can look up the Wikipedia article for Forsmark in your own language, but the Swedish is the most informative:ärnkraftverk#Incidenten_i_juli_2006
The reactor had a scram. Two out of four generators started up, and the remaining two failed to start automatically, and were eventually started manually 23 minutes later. The incident was nevertheless deemed "severe" because of similar design of the four generators and battery backups, which therefore *could* have all failed to start.
Even then, fuel meltdown would take some time, first progressing through fuel damage (overheating). Even assuming all comes to the worst, outside contamination would have been small, as Swedish NPPs are all fitted with containment filters. They were in fact the first in the world, so their regulator isn't so inept…

Anonymous said...

Surprised my "independent government agencies" was controversial, but of course alien to countries where the population is used to cabinet members stepping in to micro manage everything of media interest. Generalists like politicians are the last one you want involved in direct management of any crises.
A funny story is when Swedish TV (SVT, independent but funded by mandatory fees) ran a plug on "free television" using Berlusconi as the counter example. The Italian government responded by complaing to the Swedish ambassador proving exactly what the piece was saying, an Italian government belives everyone is like them - in control of the "state" TV.

Some less analytical comments also draw (the wrong) conclusions about my position on the current generation of reactors in use today but most likely pointless to comment on the details of those postings.

And btw, could be bad luck but I have a close friend living outside Brussels and if he want his garbage to be picked up he has to "gift" the garbage men.

Anonymous said...

@5:26 Agreed, if anything Sweden was a few *hours* away from a Chernobyl accident, not minutes -- a meltdown starts within a few hours.

Forsmark appears to resemble Fukushima in that all emergency generators had the same flawed design (at Fukushima Daiichi *all* generators serving units 1-4 were underground and got flooded).

Another common point between Fukushima and Forsmark seems to be sheer luck: had the earthquake struck in the night or over a weekend, when only a limited amount of personnel is available at the plants, today the Fukushima Daini plant would probably be in the same state as Daiichi.

Emergency generators are effectively the last barrier between your nearest npp and Chernobyl but, for one reason or another, emergency generators fail to start way too often at nuclear power plants.

Why can't nuclear utilities keep all their diesel generators ready to start? Not enough profits?


Anonymous said...

@Beppe 10:40: Sweden was never minutes or hours from a Chernobyl, as there is no positive reactivity or graphite to burn. Even a Fukushima was far away, as they not only have batteries and the suppression pool (a few hours, like Fukushima), but also a gas turbine on the site (if all diesels fail).
But the big difference is that they can vent and add water to compensate for the amount lost by boiling, even if they somehow lose the final heat sink (sea), and even with a degraded core, because they have both passive hydrogen recombiners (against explosions) and containment filters (to retain iodine + cesium). There's also no risk of overpressure, because filtered venting will then be initiated by a rupture disc. See chapters 5 & 6:
Don't forget: the "reference accident" for Fukushima is not Chernobyl, but TMI (1979). Filtered vents were therefore developed and installed from around 1985, in Sweden, France, Germany, Finland, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Other countries (including of course Japan) weren't so concerned…

Atomfritz said...

@anon 1:44
I agree with you in many points, but:

Afaik it is still (at least publicly) not yet clearly understood why the rupture disk at Fuku reactor 2 didn't open.
So workers had to manually open valves in strong radiation to relieve pressure. If they had not succeeded, the outcome could have been substantially worse.

If the rupture disks were actually exchanged by stronger ones than designed, then they are/were de facto useless. This would have been a violation like replacing fuses with nails in fear that a fuse failure could stop the apparatus.
On the other hand, this could be just disinformation to distract from a possible duct clogging, which would imply that the concept is basically flawed, which in turn would mean that the problem affects all nuclear plants, not only Fuku #2.

No matter what was the cause for the rupture disk not opening, it's only one thing certain: there is/was something very wrong.

And, these passive hydrogen recombiners you mention have very little capacity and are only effective if the hydrogen production is quite low and slow.
(The same is valid for active hydrogen recombiners, whose capacity is larger, but still not large enough if there is rapid and strong hydrogen accumulation like at Fukushima.)

The only passive safety feature that worked was the blowout wall panel. And this safety feature is either not at all implemented or even got disabled in newer nuclear plants.

Thus, I won't put too much faith into these passive safety features. Much of this is only nuclear marketing.

Anonymous said...

@Atomfritz: Of course, a rupture disk should be set at a pressure lower than the confinement one, otherwise it's useless… Apparently, this latter case was chosen for Fukushima, according to opinion of the ANS:

The passive recombiners don't need to absorb all hydrogen - as long as the hydrogen is vented properly (i.e. outside, NOT in the building). In fact, they should rather be called "oxygen recombiners": with large hydrogen production, there's nominally no free oxygen in the reactor or containment, and the recombination concerns the small amount of oxygen that is generated by radiolysis of water.

It's still not very clear why hydrogen was found in the building. Most likely, they either vented where they could (i.e. normal vent didn't work) or the containment "vented itself" through leaks because of too high pressure.

Anonymous said...

At Swedish Anon:

Again, thank you very much for throwing, once again, cliches concerning Belgium which are nothing more than urban legends as well. Seemingly, projecting this kind of 'heard of' arrogance is all you can do, including your replying stuffed with technical details (very typical) and in general a discourse pointing to a pro-nuke attitude and strong beliefs in nuclear safety. I have details contradicting your story, but what the heck. I'm happy for you, really. Maybe I could throw back some details of what I hear about the great country of Sweden? I have Swedish friends as well, yes really, 3 actually. But you know what? I won't do that, because this thread is not about Sweden, but about Belgium, in case you forgot.
thank you,

Anonymous said...

A google-translated and slightly edited article concerning the political dimension of Doel/Tihange NPP's posted on

Nuclear industry rules this country (Belgium)

In a press release Greenpeace responds to the government's decision. For them it is again clear: not the government, but the nuclear industry governs this country. Under pressure from the nuclear lobby the government again chooses an outdated energy system.

"Moreover, they slide any responsibility themselves by blindly following the opinion of the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC), while there is no unanimity among the experts and the report of the FANC itself is based on assumptions."

Second plaintiff/complaint/summon

On 5 April this year Greenpeace summoned the government because of the lack of proper nuclear emergency plans. Given the immense impact of a major nuclear disaster in a densely populated country like Belgium and the lack of adequate nuclear emergency planning the risk of a nuclear disaster should be reduced to zero. The government fails to do so with this decision to restart nuclear plants Doel 3 and Tihange 2.

Greenpeace therefore let the government sue again now because gross negligence. "The government has a duty to protect the people but fails after many years to establish proper nuclear contingency/emergency plans," said Eloi Glorieux, spokesman for Greenpeace Belgium (energy expert). "Instead of changing this attitude of gross negligence, the government allows the starting up of two faulty nuclear reactors. This will only increase the risk of a nuclear disaster"

'Micro' cracks of 2.4 cm (!)

It's not just a handful of microscopic cracks, but more than 8,000 cracks in Doel 3 and more than 2000 in Tihange 2. There is no certainty about the exact origin of the cracks, only guesses and assumptions.

One speaks of micro cracks, but some are up to 2.4 cm long. This far exceeds the micro-level. Nuclear reactor pressure vessel is a crucial part of a nuclear reactor, whose failure may result in a worst case scenario

Several experts and audit agencies placed serious doubts about the safety of Doel 3 and Tihange 2, including ex-FANC director Willy De Roovere, the French nuclear watchdog ASN and Dieter Majer, the former head of the German nuclear control agency.

Final closure is only option

When various expert teams and independent scientists after nearly a year of research, studies and additional testing are still in disagreement about the safety of these reactors, then the government must eliminate any risk and impose Doel 3 and Tihange 2 final closing.

The Di Rupo government does not do this, including all parties of the federal majority - PS and SP.A, CDH and CD & V, MR and Open VLD - thus showing where their priorities lie: not in the safety of the population.


Anonymous said...

Why is the Belgian government allowing npps to be operated past their design life?
Operating a piece of machinery beyond design is usually not a good idea and the only one benefiting from such extensions are the utilities, whereas the risks are borne by the population. It seems that the government is more keen at protecting the short term interests of the utilities than its citizens safety.

Glad to hear that Sweden plants have so many security features built in but will they work when their time comes? The list of devices that failed at Fukushima is ashamingly long and Forsmark failing diesels are not a positive indicator.

Besides, no matter how you put it, the consequences of a nuclear accident can be so huge that the reward of a little (expensive) electricity is just not worth the risk. We need to switch to an inherently safer way of manufacturing electricity.


Atomfritz said...

@ anon 9:50

Yes, but to me it appears (at least at #1 and maybe #2, too) that the hydrogen explosion originated at the operation (topmost) floor and not in the containment.
This floor is not inerted with nitrogen gas, it's normal air.

Anyway, the passive hydrogen recombinators are obviously incapable of absorbing such quantities of H2 and thus, isn't the discussion about recombinators moot because of uselessness?

@ Michael and others
Thanks for the details!
Just such detailed findings were the reason why the NPP Stade near the large city of Hamburg has been taken out of service prematurely, even though it already got life extension clearance.

The high number of cracks has been caused by the combination of increasing embrittlement and thermal cycling stress.
Every thermal shock caused by the emergency cooling system could mean the end.

Belgium (and thus inevitably its neighbors, too) is indeed a good candidate for the next nuclear catastrophe.

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