Rebecca Harms: Decommission 'hopelessly outdated' Belgian nuclear reactor

Leading Greens MEP Rebecca Harms has called for the decommissioning of a Belgian nuclear reactor as it no longer meets international safety standards.
Photo credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

11 Dec 2018

Harms said that Belgian authorities should shut down the country’s oldest nuclear reactor, Tihange 1, 43 years after it began operations, given that almost no Belgian reactors are connected to the grid.

"The reactor’s design is hopelessly outdated and no longer meets today's international safety requirements. It seems impossible to retrofit the old reactor to bring it up to the state of the art in science and technology."

Harms’ demand coincides with the publication of a damning new study on the risks of the continued operation of Tihange 1.


The author of the study, reactor safety expert Prof Manfred Mertins, presented the findings at a news briefing in the European Parliament.

He told reporters he has raised “serious doubts” concerning the plant’s accident safety.

The academic came to the conclusion that the continued operation of Tihange 1 due to “outdated reactor design, inadequate safety management and the accumulation of frequent unplanned events represents a potential danger for the site and its surroundings.”

It was particularly critical “that the results of international tests and current safety standards are not adequately taken into account.”

“The Belgian authorities' handling of the problems of the Belgian reactor fleet, which is characterised by covering up and downplaying the risks, further increases the loss of confidence”

Tihange 1 is one of the oldest nuclear power stations in the world. Its design was based on the safety principles and specifications applicable in the early 1970s.

Accidents at nuclear plants, including Chernobyl and Fukushima in particular, have led to a considerable tightening of the safety requirements for nuclear power plants.

Harms, who is nuclear energy spokeswoman of the Greens/EFA group, said, "The frequent problems in recent years is an indication of the deficiencies and risks arising from the ageing of the [Tihange 1] plant. The Belgian authorities' handling of the problems of the Belgian reactor fleet, which is characterised by covering up and downplaying the risks, further increases the loss of confidence.”

"The definitive closure of the oldest Belgian reactor could be a much-needed sign that the well-known problems are taken seriously.”

The German deputy went on, "The authorities in neighbouring countries must also take action. The 43-year-old nuclear reactor Tihange 1 is threatening not only the safety of Belgian citizens but also of the citizens in neighbouring countries"

Prof Mertins said in the exhaustive study, which was commissioned by the Greens/EFA group, that the Belgian nuclear power plant “shows deficiencies to varying degrees.”

He said, “It should be noted that the Tihange 1 nuclear power plant does not meet the requirements of reliable hazard and accident protection. The Tihange 1 nuclear plant provides only limited basic protection.”

“Its design does not consistently cover the state-of-the-art requirements for protection against overarching external effects. This applies in particular to protection against airplane crashes, which, given the proximity to the airport at Bierset-Liège, is a highly safety-relevant factor.

“The crash of an airplane - larger than a sporting aircraft - would have a catastrophic impact on the site and its surrounding area.”

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