SA’s future? Belgium’s (30yr old) nuclear plants raise safety concerns

The South African nuclear project is an unaffordable project before it’s even started and with the Rand in freefall, it’s only getting more expense. And regardless of the cost, it seems government is hell bent on pushing it through, why, it’s anyone’s guess. The one possible roadblock is newly elected Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, who’s showed some metal after he pushed on with Nene’s SAA plan. His next step with that problem may be more complex: What to do with current chairperson Dudu Myeni. More concerns on the nuclear side, a problem which is likely to face South Africa down the line is around safety. Belgium’s reactors have only been operational for 30 years, yet there are concerns around the ageing of its plants. The case against nuclear is further strengthened as Belgium’s neighbour, Germany, looks to close all commercial nuclear reactors by 2022. And a R1.5 trillion investment should have a lifespan longer than 30 years. One should also learn from the past and not repeat the same mistakes that others have already endured. – Stuart Lowman

From News24

Brussels – Two Belgian nuclear reactors which were temporarily shut down due to structural problems should never have been restarted, according to a study commissioned by a pro-environmental group in the European Parliament and published on Thursday.

The study feeds into an ongoing debate about the safety of Belgium’s ageing nuclear plants, but the country’s nuclear regulator rejected the findings.

Steam billows from the cooling towers of the Doel nuclear plant of Electrabel, the Belgian unit of French company Engie, former GDF Suez, in Doel near Antwerp, Belgium, January 4, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Steam billows from the cooling towers of the Doel nuclear plant of Electrabel, the Belgian unit of French company Engie, former GDF Suez, in Doel near Antwerp, Belgium, January 4, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Technical problems with Belgium’s nuclear reactors have created tensions with neighbouring Germany, which is moving toward clean and sustainable energy sources and has passed legislation that requires the closure of all its commercial nuclear reactors by 2022.

The two reactors, Doel 3 and Tihange 2, were taken offline in 2012 after service checks indicated defects in the reactor pressure vessels. They were later found to be hydrogen flakes, formed when hydrogen bubbles became trapped during the manufacturing of the tank’s steel rings.

Belgium’s Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) carried out further analysis and consultations with international experts, and announced in November that the reactors could be relaunched.

But the new study, carried out by material scientist Ilse Tweer on behalf of the Greens’ parliamentary group, challenges several of the FANC’s assessments and concludes that the decision to restart the two power plants is “not understandable.”

Tweer’s report says it is not certain that the flaws in the pressure vessels are hydrogen flakes, adding that there is no “explicit proof” that they have not grown during the 30 years that the reactors have been operational, or could do so in future.

“A reactor pressure vessel with thousands of flaws – and with these large flaw sizes – would not be licensable, neither today nor at the time of manufacture,” the report notes.

“Operating these two reactors, which contain thousands of cracks, is irresponsible,” Green EU lawmaker Rebecca Harms of the said on Wednesday. “Were the vessel to burst, the consequences for the densely populated region around the reactors would be catastrophic.”

But FANC spokesperson Nele Scheerlinck rejected the criticism and questioned Tweer’s credentials, noting that some of her arguments are “just not true; others are ill-informed”.

“We work with many international experts who all agree that the presence of these hydrogen flakes … is not a safety problem,” Scheerlinck added. “She’s quite alone in her opinion.”

More than half of Belgium’s electricity is generated by the four-reactor Doel plant in northern Belgium and a three-reactor plant at Tihange in the east, near the German border.

Although all of Belgium’s reactors were built at least 30 years ago, they are not among the oldest in operation in Europe. – DPA

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