Pressure to reverse the decision by Belgium’s Federal Nuclear Control Agency (FANC) to restart unit 2 of Tihange nuclear power plant came to nothing on 3 September when the Brussels Court of First Instance upheld the decision.
The three-unit Tihange nuclear power plant is operated by Electrabel, the Belgian unit of the French utility Engie. Tihange 2 is a 1008MWe reactor that began commercial operations in 1983.
The reactor was closed in 2012 and again in 2014 after inspections revealed tiny cracks in its core tanks. In 2016, Germany requested that the reactor should be taken offline until safety concerns were addressed. However, the Belgian regulator authorised a restart in November 2015 after finding the cracks were hydrogen flakes in the walls of the reactor tank and did not compromise plant safety.
Several cities, municipalities and federal states in Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, as well as a number of groups had asked the court to annul FANC’s decision allowing restart of Tihange 2. Cracks had been discovered in the walls of the reactor during an inspection in 2012 and Tihange 2 was then shut down. It restarted in 2015.
According to the plaintiffs, these cracks could have been discovered during construction of the reactor walls between 1975 and 1983, as the technology already existed and the material used to build the reactor walls should never have been authorised.
“The court finds our claim admissible but unfounded,” said Leo Tubbax, spokesman for the nuclear association Stop Nuclear Energy. “The court is in fact following FANC on the merits of the case. Like the FANC and the federal government, the court does not doubt for a second the safety of this reactor.”
He added: “On the positive side, thanks to pressure from the opposition to nuclear power, Tihange 2 and Doel 3 are no longer on the list of ‘reactors to be extended’. They will both be shut down after 40 years of operation in 2022 or 2023. There is therefore no need to lodge an appeal, as it would probably be argued at the time of closure.”
The Belgian government decided in 2018 that the Tihange and Doel nuclear power plants would close by 2025. Belgium currently has a total of seven reactors in operation at the two sites.
Photo: Tihange in Belgium (By Hullie - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)