A new Task Force to ensure that the decommissioning process runs safely and smoothly was set up on Tuesday. From next year the process will commence of decommissioning at least 5 of Belgium’s 7 nuclear reactors. A decision on the closure of the remaining two (newer) reactors will be taken in the autumn.
The decommissioning of the reactors will be a mammoth task. It takes around twenty years to dismantle a nuclear reactor. Two to three years of this are needed for the preparatory work, twelve or thirteen years for the actual dismantling operation and a further two years for the demolition of the reactor.
This means that during the next two decades Belgium will gain a lot of expertise in what will be the largest dismantlement operation on nuclear reactors ever undertaken outside the United States, Germany, or Japan. Dismantling the reactors will cost at least 18 billion euro and some estimates say that the cost might be as high as 40 billion euro. The operation will create 230,000 tonnes of waste, of which 2% will be contaminated.
The Federal Government hopes that the experience and expertise gained here during the dismantlement process can be exported abroad, as many other countries will be dismantling nuclear reactors during the coming years.
The new Task Force is made up of the Federal Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden (Flemish Christian democrat) The Federal Economy Minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne (Francophone socialist) and the Federal Energy Minister Tinne Van der Straeten (Flemish green).
As well as looking into how the dismantlement process can be turned into an economic opportunity, the Task Force will also start preparing for the immediate effects of the reactors’ closure. Around 2,000 people are employed at each of the country’s nuclear power plants. They will need to find alternative employment once the plants close.
The Task Force will look at how the reactors can be dismantled as safely as possible and what is to be done with the many tonnes of nuclear waste. The three ministers will also look at how the 25 million euro of EU cash given to Belgium to help with the economic impact of the closure of the reactors can be best spent.