Belgium’s Doel 1 to restart as Engie predicts increase availability

3 March 2019

Belgium’s Federaal Agentschap voor Nucleaire Controle (Federal Agency for Nuclear Control - Fanc) on 28 February gave permission to operator Engie Electrabel for the restart of unit 1 at the Doel NPP. At the end of April 2018, a leak was detected in Doel 1 in a pipeline in a safety cooling water circuit. The reactor was then shut down, as required by the safety procedures, and the scheduled maintenance of Doel 1 was brought forward. At the beginning of November 2018 work began to replace the affected part of the pipeline. Engie Electrabel has now carried out the necessary repair work to the satisfaction of Fanc, which needed absolute clarity about the cause of the problem, before the reactor could be restarted. Material analysis of the pipeline by external laboratories showed that the leak was the result of material fatigue. Fanc and its technical subsidiary Bel V agreed with the conclusion of these analyses.

There was a similar but less extensive problem at Doel 2 and the repair work for that reactor took less time. Fanc gave permission for its restart in January. However, in order to prevent similar problems in the future, Engie Electrabel must carry out specific monitoring of the pipelines during work, and follow-up inspections of the pipelines must take place during subsequent revisions. Both Doel units are 433MWe pressurised water reactor units. Doel 1 began commercial operation in February 1975 and Doel 2 in December 1975.

The same day, Engie said the availability its Belgian nuclear units will rise to 78% this year, from 52% last year, according to its 2018 financial statement released yesterday. That percentage is expected to increase to 79% in 2020 and 93% in 2021, it added. This includes new outages at Doel 1 and 2 and unit 1 at the Tihange NPP, Engie said, adding that these units will not be available next winter.

Engie, through its subsidiary Electrabel, operates seven nuclear reactors in Belgium – three at Tihange near Liege and four at Doel near Antwerp - with a combined installed capacity of 5.9GWe. Unplanned outages led to a €200 million ($228 million) loss in full-year earnings at its Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg unit, Engie said. In September, Electrabel said scheduled outages at Tihange 2 and 3 had been further extended while concrete degradation issues in adjacent non-nuclear buildings are addressed. Tihange 2 is now expected to restart on 1 June 2019.  It had previously been set to restart in October 2018 Tihange 3 had been expected to restart in March 2019 instead of September, but was restarted in early January.

"The Nuclear business reported a very significant decrease due to unscheduled outages leading to a very low availability rate of 52% in 2018 and due to a decrease in captured prices," according to a company statement that accompanied the financial report. In 2018, Engie's revenue increased 1.7% to €60.6 billion and core earnings increased by 0.4% to €9.2bn, but current operating income fell by 0.9% to €5.1bn and net profit decreased to €1bn from €1.3bn, partly because of the unscheduled Belgian outages. Engie continued to develop its nuclear maintenance business last year with the acquisition by its subsidiary Endel of SUEZ's specialised subsidiary, ex-SRA SAVAC.

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