Doel nuclear plant in most densely populated area

Some nine million people are living within a 75 kilometre (50 mile) radius of the nuclear power station of Doel. This puts Doel on the first place of a list of nuclear plants surrounded by densely populated areas in Europe, Nature calculated. Doel is not far from the city of Antwerp, and is located in the north of East Flanders.

Nature compared the areas surrounding nuclear plants across the world on the basis of the number of people living nearby. Doel is on number 1 in Europe. Biblis, in the German state of Hessen, take second position with 7.2 million residents in the 75 kilometre area.

Tihange, in Wallonia, claims fifth place with 5.7 million people, while Borssele, just across the border with the Netherlands in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, takes sixth with 5.6 million.

"Like playing Russian roulette"

The environmental organisation Bond Beter Leefmilieu (BBL) points to the fact that 9 of the 436 commercial nuclear power stations worldwide are older than 40 years. This considered as a good time to close a plant. In 2015, the oldest plants in Doel and Tihange are to join that list.

In 2003, the government of Guy Verhofstadt decided that the 2 plants in Doel and 1 in Tihange should be closed by 2015, but the Herman Van Rompuy government reversed that decision in 2008 due to energy supply concerns. The BBL is concerned about that decision.

"All parts of a nuclear plant could suffer from the effects of its old age", says Sara Van Dyck of the BBL. "The problem is that a number of these potential problems cannot be detected easily because they emerge in the inner part of the reactor which is hard to reach, or which has high radiation levels."

According to the BBL, keeping the old nuclear plants open longer than planned, involves a number of risks. "Some politicians want to keep them open until they have reached 50 years of age. This is like playing Russian roulette: it could go well, but it could also end the wrong way."

In a reaction to the article, Electrabel, which is responsible for the safety of the plants, plays down the safety concerns, saying that the plants are equipped with a double containment dome, which is unique in Europe.