Doel 3 reactor to close for good on Friday evening

At 9:15 pm on Friday evening the Doel 3 in East Flanders will be disconnected from the electricity grid. Doel 3 will become the first of Belgium’s seven nuclear reactors to be permanently shut down. Although, extending the reactor's productive life is still technically possible the Director of the Doel nuclear power station Peter Moens told VRT News that will not be done as ‘We do not improvise with nuclear safety".

In recent weeks there has been a lot of discussion about whether the closure of the Doel 3 reactor could be postponed. "Technically, we won't be doing things that are irreversible in the coming years", Mr Moens told VRT News. However, he added that despite this extending the reactor’s productive life would be almost impossible.

According to Belgium’s nuclear watchdog FANC, extending the productive life of the Doel 3 reactor now could endanger the safety of the personnel that work at Doel. Many staff that worked at Doel 3 have already been redeployed by Engie, the French energy company that owns the plant. This means that there is no longer enough staff at Doel 3 and those that remain not be skilled enough to ensure that safely can be maintained at the reactor.  Furthermore, "Training an operator takes at least 3 years”, Mr Moens told VRT News. This means that nuclear safety could not be guarenteed if the productive life of the reactor were to be extended.

It's actually very simple: in the nuclear world you cannot arrange something from one day to the next. Ensuring safety always requires a lot of preparation. We don't improvise with nuclear safety. It takes years of preparation”, the director of the Doel nuclear power plant said.

According to Mr Moens, the question of restarting production at the Doel 3 reactor is not on the table. He also stresses that such a decision can not be taken in haste. The director of power plant went on to say that people have been working intensively to prepare for Friday evening’s shut down for the past 4 years to ensure that it can be done safely and in a controlled manner.

A nuclear power plant is a complex machine that you cannot simply switch on and off. It will take about five days for the reactor to come to a standstill. Then the fuel elements have to be cooled for another 5 years. Only then does the actual dismantling of the nuclear power plant begin. Doel 3 will not be completely dismantled until 2040.

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