Interior Minister: “Nuclear inspectorate has confirmed that preparatory work for the dismantlement of the Doel 3 reactor can be postponed”

In an interview with VRT News’ weekday televised current affairs programme ‘Terzake’ the Federal Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden (Flemish Christian democrat) has said that Belgium’s nuclear watchdog FANC has said that the preparatory work for the dismantling of the Doel 3 reactor in East Flanders could still be postponed if necessary. Ms Verlinden added that she had asked FANC about the possibility of delaying the work not with a view to keeping the reactor open for longer or restarting electricity production at Doel at some point in the future. The Interior Minister was keen to stress that “This is something that will need to be discussed within the government”. 

With the every-increasing severity of the energy crisis there have been growing calls for the Doel 3 reactor to be kept on stand-by so that it would be ready to produce electricity if needs be.

The Doel 3 reactor entered service in 1982 and under the law relating to the cessation of nuclear energy production in Belgium it should close after 40 years. It was due to have been disconnected from the national grid next Friday night. An agreement had been made with the nuclear energy watchdog FANC to start dismantling the reactor as soon as possible.

The plan was to remove the fuel element from the reactor as soon as it had been disconnected from the electricity grid. Then work would start quickly to chemically clean the primary cooling circuit. This involves chemically “scraping away” the radioactive participles from interior of the pipes and pumps.

Once this process has taken place it is as good as impossible to restart the reactor. With this in mind, Ms Verlinden asked FANC whether delaying the work would have any safety implications.  

Speaking in Thursday evening’s edition of Terzake, Ms Verlinden explained why she had asked the question in the first place.

"During the past few months, we have come to realise that our energy dependency can cause big problems and we have been negotiation with Engie (energy supply and production company) about this for months now. What I wanted to know was whether we could delay an operation that is irreversible until we have the prospect of energy security for the coming years”.

The answer that the work can be put back without any adverse impact on safety will be discussed by Ms Verlinden and her Federal Government colleagues. The Interior Minister is keen to stress that she asked the question as she, as Interior Minister, is responsible for nuclear safety and that it in no way means that she is in favour of keeping the Doel 3 reactor open for longer.

When asked whether her question had not come a little late, Ms Verlinden said “I just want to prevent some options completely disappearing".

“Production at the nuclear reactor will cease at the end of September and energy security for this winter is assured. Any restart at Doel 3 won’t be for tomorrow if indeed we ever want to use it again. It is my job to keep all options open". 

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