Nuclear Power Company ELECTRABEL chooses to gamble… Belgium and surroundings

Nov 24, 2014 UPDATE:  Not a joke (nor funny):  The restart of Doel 3 is  tentatively planned for April 1, 2015, or even earlier:   See De Standaard,  Nov. 13, 2014, (In Dutch): GDF Suez stelt 1 april voorop voor herstart scheurtjesreactoren. 

Added later: They were said to restart earlier, and then there were reports of them going to started later, after all.  Check with the madmen at the Belgian government for the latest.


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Aspen, Colorado, USA – November 8, 2014

Saw this Nov.8, 2014 article in one of the main Dutch-language (Flemish) Belgian daily newspapers, De Morgen, which I’ll translate quickly to comment [from Flemish, my first language, (a cluster of dialects within the Dutch language, spoken by about 65% the population of Belgium), to English]  Electrabel mikt op herstart scheurtjesreactoren. [“Electrabel aims to restart nuclear reactors with micro-ruptures in reactor vessels.”]

Dutch: “De stroomproducent Electrabel legt de laatste hand aan het onderzoek naar de haarscheurtjes in de kernreactoren Doel 3 en Tihange 2.  Het bedrijf gaat een dossier indienen bij de nucleaire waakhond FANC om goedkeuring te krijgen om de reactoren te herstarten, zegt de nieuwe CEO van Electrabel, Philippe Van Troeye, zo meldt De Tijd.”

English =>The electric utility company Electrabel finalized the investigation into the hair-thin cracks in the nuclear reactors of nuclear power reactors Doel 3 and Tihange 2.  The company is going to submit an application to the nuclear watchdog FANC to get approval to restart the reactors, says the new CEO of Electrabel, Philippe Van Troeye,  [another Belgian daily] De Tijd reports.”

The issues and dangers with Tihange are similar, but I will focus more on Doel in this blogpost, which is right outside my birth town Antwerp, Belgium.  Most Belgian electricity is produced by Electrabel, a subsidiary of GDF Suez, which also operates all the nuclear plants (Electrabel owns  89.8% of  Doel 3 & 4; and 100% of Doel 1 & 2.  See more details @ World Nuclear Association – Nuclear Power in Belgium).

The town’s name, ‘Doel‘, translates in English to ‘Aim’, ‘Target’ or ‘Goal’.

A look from the air upon landing in Brussels with Doel top left (circled), by De Schelde (The River Scheldt), which flows through the city of Antwerp (circled) and connects the massive industrial zone of the Harbor of Antwerp with the North Sea:

As seen before landing in Brussels one early morning in late 2013.

As seen before landing in Brussels one early morning in late 2013.  Photo by © Michaël Van Broekhoven.

Translation of the rest of the short article is (roughly); English =>  “Van Troeye sees no safety issues in these plants. “We meet the standards.”

At the FANC however, they foresee weeks of negotiations over the filed case.

Meanwhile, Van Troeye links the debate about extending the life of nuclear power plants to nuclear taxes.  Electrabel won’t invest hundreds of millions of euros to keep the old reactors open longer if the tax burden is not reduced.  The low electric rates and high taxes weigh heavily on the company.”

About the same, with a photo of Philippe Van Troeye, CEO of Electrabel, see also Knack Magazine (Nov 8, 2014 – Electrabel wil ‘scheurtjesreactoren’ heropenen, stroomprijs optrekken => “Electrabel wants to restart cracked reactors & raise electricity prices.”)

I’m providing this rough translation (above) and commentary (below), cause I think the folks at Electrabel who made this decision are INSANE. The risk Electrabel is willing to take extends far outside the local region.

DOEL is located in the most densely populated area of all nuclear power stations in Europe, with 9 million inhabitants within a radius of 75 kilometres (47 mi).  

On the maps (below) I show 100 mile and 400 mile radius circles around the Doel Nuclear Power Plant (NPP).   The chance that something goes awfully wrong may be statistically véry small, but IF major release of radionuclides, were to occur there (through a meltdown, spent pool fire, terrorism,…), the consequence could be that millions of people would need to be evacuated, and most of Flanders and southern The Netherlands would become uninhabitable for at least the next couple centuries.   (I would love to keep visiting my ancestral lands without needing special protective gear…)

Not to mention what the effect would be on the global economy if the world’s second largest petrochemical industry and one (or two if Rotterdam would be affected similarly) of the main arteries between Germany’s industrial heartland and the world would be severed…

For orientation: within 400 miles from Antwerp are: Brussels, London, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Paris, Köln and the metropolregion Rhein-Ruhr, etc.    That they’re willing to take such a risk…   


Circles by approximation only.

To put those 100 & 400 mile radius circles on a Population density map:

And, with a little bit of ‘worst case scenario risk assessment imagination’, you can get a clue of the amount of territory a Chernobyl-style disaster at Doel, Belgium could unleash in fallout: just ponder the 1986 Chernobyl fallout map for Europe and think “how about only half as bad?” and in originating in Belgium… (image from my 2011 blogpost comparing the Fallout Maps of Fukushima 2011 and Chernobyl 1986):

That gives an idea of the extreme levels of nuclear contamination found over the hundreds and even over 1,000 miles away from a spewing molten-down reactor.

Of course, nuclear apologists will be quick with their standard soundbite that the design of these reactors is safe, while Chernobyl’s design didn’t even have a secondary containment.  Sure.  The credibility of claims about nuclear safety is somewhere near ‘none left’, though, ’cause the same was also said about Japan’s reactors.  (In the case of Fukushima’s reactors, the historical and geological record spoke clearly before those plants were built: they’re in one of the most seismically active regions of the planet, and yet they were built to withstand quakes up to 7.9M, while stronger ones (8.2 and up) can strike at any time, geologists already knew.  They were simply gambling.  Same with the tsunami wall: lower than what is known to be possible in that area.  To name just a couple basic flaws that nuclear regulators found just dandy to allow anyhow.)  In Belgium they also designed for the past 1000 years known quakes, floods, etc., meaning if a very unusual event were to happen, these reactors could become very problematic quickly.

One of the issues with credibility is the same in Belgium as elsewhere: the supposed nuclear regulators are in cahoots with the industry.   Shortly after FANC’s director general, Willy De Roovere, had communicated the news about the micro-cracks, the government suggested that the director general should have kept quiet until all reports were in.  Three months later he was replaced by Jan Bens, a former director of the commercial nuclear powerplant Doel…  Get the picture?  Understandably, Jan Bens’ neutrality is in question, as even brought up by FANC’s own experts Pierre Kockerols and Yvan Pouleur.

(Same is the case in the US:  A 1987 Congressional report entitled “NRC Coziness with Industry” concluded, that the NRC “has not maintained an arms length regulatory posture with the commercial nuclear power industry… [and] has, in some critical areas, abdicated its role as a regulator altogether“.)

Some background on Doel 3’s hair-thin micro-cracks:

Doel 3 was shut down at the beginning of June 2012 for a planned inspection. The new post-Fukushima high-resolution ultrasonic inspection revealed that there were thousands of semi laminar flaws in the reactor vessel’s steel rings.

More investigations found a whopping 8,000 mini-ruptures, as wide as 24 mm (!) and as deep as 10 mm (De Morgen, Feb 2013).  These remain.  The reactors they want to start back up are those with all these micro-cracks.  They just hope for the best, gambling really, ’cause nobody knows how such vessel issues could cause ‘unexpected’ complications in case of an emergency.

These “micro-cracks” were determined to be hydrogen flakes, which make the steel more brittle and could (nobody actually knows) increase the risk of a reactor vessel rupturing.  The reactor remained offline for further inspections and assessment for an entire year.  Eventually the nuclear regulator FANC judged that the reactor could still operate safely and it was restarted June 3, 2013.  The restart, however, was linked to an action plan concerning further investigations of the material properties of the reactor vessel.  Less than a year later, the test results revealed a different outcome compared to what was anticipated by experts, and so the affected power plant was stopped again.

In short:  the situation remains essentially unpredictable.  So, going forward is ‘gambling’.  The stakes are incredibly high…

For more technical details and discussion, see also American Nuclear Society’s Nuclear Café August 15, 2012 blogpost, “Doel-3 in Belgium reports possible pressure vessel flaw – Findings could be significant for other reactors”,  by Will Davis.

For the overview (in Dutch) of various risks and “how well the plants are designed to be just fine in all cases”, see KERNCENTRALE DOEL RAPPORT WEERSTANDSTESTEN Bijkomende veiligheidsherziening van de installaties – 31 oktober 2011 (   The synopsis boils down to this:

If external power for essential cooling fails, diesel generators take over.  And if those somehow also fail, then… Um… Yes, indeed, that’s all that’s needed to arrive in a Fukushima-like situation, for which the technology to deal with this does not yet exists.   A complete meltdown would ensue, with likely large amounts escaping into the environment in the first few days after the accident.  You can take a look at the above maps again and ponder if that risk is truly worth a bit more profit for a shortsighted company.  If the accident were to spiral further out of control, the North Sea and regional groundwater would become extremely contaminated as well.  (Have a look at how the on-site groundwater situation is worsening in my recent blogpost, “Strontium-90 skyrocketing in Fukushima’s On-Site Groundwater. German meltdown model that predicted this suggests worst is yet to come.“)  But never mind, that won’t happen, Electrabel (and FANC so far) asserts.  In such a dire case “not anticipated by experts”, however, a large part of Western Europe would be toast.

Electrabel, however, might just be playing political hardball, trying to basically blackmail the Belgian government purely for financial gain (lower taxes, higher electricity rates, more subsidies for new power plants), part of the typical “socialize the costs, privatize the gains” corporate modus operandi.

At this stage I can only hope for some more sanity from Belgium’s Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC), key players in the government(s), or -if all else fails- if it wasn’t an act of terrorism, then perhaps the stealthy benevolent saboteur(s), who wrecked the turbine of nuclear plant Doel 4 near Antwerp this summer 2014, could try the same at #3…  (See: Reuters, Aug 14, 2014:  Belgian Doel 4 nuclear reactor closed till year-end – sabotage confirmed – “[…] Electrabel had said the plant would remain offline until Sept. 15 as it carried out repairs and investigated an oil leak that forced its closure on Aug. 5. Its French parent company GDF Suez confirmed the closure was due to sabotage. […]”.  Not suggesting this, though.

Meanwhile, Electrabel is suing Greenpeace for trespassing… (Oct 28, 2014 HNL article in Dutch), because… well, basically because security at the Tihange nuclear site is so pathetic that a group of peace-loving unarmed masked protesters could just walk in and unfurl a banner…

Drop your nonsense, Electrabel.  Please.  And treat your aging nuclear facilities like the ticking dirty time bombs they really are.   Shut them down for good, and beef up security.  

And, if I may suggest something over coffee – from a sunny fancy ski town in the Colorado Rockies – dear Belgian government, please implement an ambitious sustainable energy investment program already.   Like Germany, but better.  What are you waiting for?   Another nuclear accident?  

The next nuclear accident is just a matter of time, everyone knows that.  If Electrabel is given the go-ahead, it very well could happen in Belgium.  

But… it could just as well happen somewhere else nearby too…  Of course. that’s a given with that industry.   Here’s a map of nuclear power plant sites in Europe, from my April 2011 blogpost, “List of Nuclear Power Plants with maps“:

The time to bring an end to the misguided nuclear era is now.

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20 Responses to Nuclear Power Company ELECTRABEL chooses to gamble… Belgium and surroundings

  1. Hallo Michaël, Ik had net dit even gecijferd over Doel : ( niet de scheurtjes, maar de 10 jaar alweer extra die ze krijgen ).

    “Waarom Electrabel Doel 1 & 2 nog 10 jaar (of nog langer) openhouden wel heel leuk vindt !
    En er ook voor gezorgd heeft dat de politici makkelijk door de bocht gingen, lees omgekocht wilden worden. :-) Vijf minuten politieke moed dus.

    Cijfers allemaal publiek te vinden op de websites van FOD economie, Belstat, Mira en Cregg. Standaard en De Redactie.

    Totale omzet electriciteitsproductie en distributie België in 2013 (KW1 en 2) 23,8 miljard €. Jaartotaal nog niet bekend, maar zal niet ver van 46 miljard € Zitten.

    Aandeel van de distributie (gemiddeld alle gebruikers) 30% (is overdreven).

    Dus omzet producenten : 32 miljard €. ( dat is voor 2013 ongeveer 8,5 % van bbp). Kijk eens of ze evenredig personeel in dienst hebben… .

    Aandeel Doel 1 & 2 in de totale productie : 12 %. Dat is 3,84 miljard €.

    Inkomsten over 10 jaar : 38,4 Miljard.
    Kosten om op te lappen voor 10 jaar 600 Mio.
    Exploitatie kosten (niets over te vinden), laat ons royaal zijn : 1 miljard per jaar.


    De boel sluiten en opkuisen daarentegen is ook voor Electrabel een totaal onbekende kost. Dus nemen ze maar met het grootste plezier het risico om een paar verroeste kernkachels open te houden. Dat doet ook een beetje aan Japan denken… . “

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