Foreign regulators to examine cracks at Belgian nuclear plant

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 14, 2012 9:40 AM
Foreign regulators to examine cracks at Belgian nuclear plant

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Nuclear regulators from across Europe will examine cracks at a Belgian nuclear plant on Thursday to help establish what further action may be needed in reactors constructed by the same company - now defunct - in other countries.

Belgian nuclear watchdog FANC said it would hold the meeting to share information about the suspected cracks found in the core tank of Belgian reactor Doel 3.

The regulator said last week it had halted production at the 1,006 megawatt reactor - like all of Belgium's nuclear power stations operated by GDF Suez unit Electrabel - until at least the end of August to carry out further tests.

The core tank at the 30-year-old Doel 3 was built by Dutch company Rotterdamsche Droogdok Maatschappij. It also constructed the tank at Belgian reactor Tihange 2 and reactors in other countries, including Sweden.

"Regulators will be able to see the failure indications we have encountered on the reactor tank of Doel 3," the regulator said in a statement.

Because of high levels of radiation, replacing the core tank is difficult and has never been done anywhere.

Spurred by the disaster at Japan's Fukushima plant after an earthquake and subsequent tsunami last year, Germany has pledged to abandon nuclear power generation completely by 2022 in favor of other renewable power sources.

But the strong expansion of nuclear power as a carbon-free energy source is expected to continue, helped by more than 100 percent expansions over the next two decades in Asia.

FANC said it did not yet have a final list of which national regulators would attend Thursday's meeting.

Sweden's nuclear safety authority said that it would attend as the tank at its Ringhals 2 reactor was also built by Rotterdamsche Droogdok, which no longer exists as a company.

"We still don't know what was found in the Belgian reactor," Gosta Larsen, a spokesman for the Ringhals nuclear power plant, said.

"But we are going to take a closer look at the reactor's vessel when the maintenance starts."

Larsen said there were no plans at this stage to shut down the reactor before scheduled maintenance started on September 15.

(Reporting By Robert-Jan Bartunek in Brussels, Nerijus Adomaitis in Oslo; editing by Patrick Graham)