Another vulnerable power grid

Another power grid in the news. After Japan, India and Texas we have Belgium.

Tihange nuclear power plant

Belgium’s nuclear regulator has questioned the safety of the Electrabel-operated Doel 3 reactor, located 25 kilometres (20 miles) north of Antwerp, due to cracks in the pressure vessels. Hence the decision to close the Doel 3 reactor and also a second reactor in the country’s south near Liege, Tihange 2.

June and July tests had suggested there could be “thousands” of possible fissures inside the protective vessel holding the Doel 3 reactor, and that these probably dated back to its construction decades ago. The Dutch firm behind that job is long since out of business, and repairs have been described as practically impossible.

Belgium’s nuclear regulator, said that Electrabel,  would have to show that in a period of the remaining lifetime there is no risk at all that cracks can go on to produce leaks. The regulator agency said it would be difficult to prove the Doel 3 site is watertight safe, suggesting its permanent closure was all but certain.

Earlier, the European Commission has initiated a series of voluntary stress tests as part of efforts to ensure safety following Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster. They were meant to be completed before the Commission’s August summer break, but governments have been given extra time for further assessments. The EU Energy Commissioner said he expected the stress tests to be completed in October and that they would include the assessment from regulators about risks associated with the possible cracks in the Belgian unit.

Belgium is very much depending on nuclear energy. It is one of the three nuclear champions in the EU by using more than 50% nuclear energy as load for their electricity production. Belgium has seven nuclear reactors at two plants (Doel and Tihange) with a total capacity of 5927 MW. With the shutdown of the two reactors the total nuclear production capacity is diminished with 34% or 2014 MW.
The federal energy regulator Creg confirms that if nuclear reactors Doel 3 and Tihange 2 effectively remain closed and it is a cold winter, there is a risk of blackouts!

The option to electricity imports could offer some relief, but is generally limited. An alternative is the reopening of conventional power plants that are now inactive, the coal power plant of Ruien and the gas power plant of Drogenbos. But together they only have a capacity of about 1000MW.

An early closure of the two nuclear power reactors will definitely lead to capacity problems and will certainly influence the electricity price.