Belgium Reactor Monitored for Cracks

Thursday, August 9, 2012

BRUSSELS—Belgium has halted one of its seven nuclear reactors on suspicion that one of its components might be cracked, the country's atomic power regulator said Wednesday.

"We have found anomalies," said Karina De Beule, spokesman for the ACFN, the federal agency for nuclear control. The agency is "evaluating these anomalies, if they can cause cracks," Ms. De Beule said, adding that the 1,006-megawatt Doel 3 reactor will remain shut at least until the end of August.

The incident—at the moment classified level 1 in a scale where Chernobyl-style explosions are level 7—risks triggering renewed controversy about the use of nuclear energy in Europe, where authorities are seeking to ensure safe operations at ageing reactors, while at the same guaranteeing a reliable electricity supply. Last year's nuclear scare in Japan has heightened public concerns about the dangers of using nuclear power, prompting several European nations to reconsider their energy provisions. Germany has said it will shut all its nuclear plants by 2022, and Belgium decided recently to stand by plans to exit nuclear energy by 2025.

Ms. De Beule said that several scenarios are possible, between two extremes: The anomalies might end up being nothing important, or more thorough analysis might find out that they threaten the integrity of the reactor.

The news comes as the European Union's executive body is working on a final report about the safety of Europe's nuclear plants. The Fukushima accident in Japan had such an effect on European public opinion that the EU decided to carry out safety checks, called stress tests, on all of its plants, and the results are due to be released by the end of the year.

GDF Suez SA, the French energy giant that operates Belgian nuclear plants through its unit Electrabel, confirmed that the reactor will remain closed.

"The reactor has been halted since June for regular control. Halt for maintenance has been extended, to allow additional inspections," a company spokesman said. The incident has no impact on the health of workers, nearby residents or the environment, the company said.

Doel 3, which accounts for one-sixth of Belgium's nuclear-generated electricity, is expected to be decommissioned in 2022.

Nuclear energy accounts for slightly more than half of Belgium's generated electricity.

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