Unprecedented: Germany Asks Belgium To Shut Down Nuclear Reactors, Citing Safety Concerns

German Nuclear Inspectors Caution Belgium Over Two Reactors, Ask Them To Shut Down In Unprecedented Move

The government of Germany has made an unprecedented request of neighboring Belgium and asked that two nuclear reactors be shut down, citing safety concerns.

Belgium received a request from Germany to take its Engie SA’s Tihange-2 and Doel-3 atomic plants offline in order to address safety concerns, Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said Wednesday in an emailed statement. Belgium’s nuclear regulator AFCN said the pair of facilities, which were shut for inspections for 20 months, are now safe to operate.

The request is not a typical one.

“We’ve never made such a request to a neighboring state before,” Deputy Environment Minister Jochen Flasbarth told reporters. “This is an unusual procedure.”

Following inspections of the reactor vessels’ steel walls, operator Electrabel, under the auspices of Belgium’s nuclear regulatory body AFCN decided the reactors were safe last November. Although there are defects, AFCN ruled that they don’t affect plant safety, and the plants resumed operations by the end of 2015.

Those two reactors alone account for about 14 percent of all Belgium’s power capacity, a fact that can’t help but be part of the calculus of the AFCN regulators.

Something else that figures in to the conflict is the fact that Germany recently decided to phase out nuclear power altogether, in the wake of the Fukushima disaster of 2011, and is instead developing energy in the wind and solar sectors. They plan to have their remaining eight nuclear reactors offline by 2022.

Following AFCN’s announcement and ruling that the reactors could go back online, Germany announced that it wasn’t satisfied with AFCN’s assessment and called for a Belgium-German working group and for the national independent reactor safety commission RSK to look into the security issue.

For their part, the Belgian Energy Ministry declined to comment, and referred all questions to the regulatory body AFCN.

“Our reaction is surprise,” said Geetha Kayaert, a spokeswoman for Electrabel. “We have proven that the reactor vessels are safe and it’s the result of a very long process of research that has been evaluated and confirmed by experts in Belgium and abroad. The AFCN decided the reactors were safe to restart.”

But that’s the thing about nuclear reactors: they’re always perfectly safe right up until the moment when they aren’t. Here’s hoping that by way of setting an example in Europe and abroad by going nuclear-free, and serving as a burr under the blanket of any neighboring countries who continue to operate nuclear facilities, Germany can help nudge the rest of the planet along toward a nuclear-free future.


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