Doel 4 closure could affect winter power supply

Summary

There is speculation that the closure of the Doel 4 nuclear power station in East Flanders could lead to widespread electricity shortages this year, as the incident that led to the closure is being investigated by State Security

Possible act of terrorism

Belgium could be facing widespread power shortages this winter, caused by the closure of the nuclear power station Doel 4 on the left bank of the Scheldt river in East Flanders. Last week it was revealed that the incident that closed the station is being investigated by State Security as a possible terrorist act.

Two parliamentary committees – business affairs and interior – are due this week to meet in joint session to consider the contingency plans for shortages of electricity. Power distributor Elia said last week the situation was at present not serious, but warned that shortages could occur when the weather gets colder. “We risk having problems around the end of October, beginning of November,” said spokesperson Barbara Verhaegen.

With the sudden and unexpected closure of Doel 4 (pictured), half of Belgium’s nuclear capacity is now out of service. The reactors at Doel 3 and Tihange 2 have been out of commission for some time following the discovery of material defects.

Doel 4 was closed down after a leak of 90,000 litres of oil into the steam turbine, in an incident now being investigated as sabotage after investigators from the federal agency for nuclear control (FANC) found evidence the leak had been caused deliberately. Since then, members of the station’s personnel have been interviewed and a new rule imposed that they may only enter technical installations two at a time – the “four eyes” security rule.

Both Electrabel, the owners of the station, and the FANC have stressed that at no time was the nuclear zone of the station breached or endangered in any way. Nonetheless, the investigation has attracted the attention of the State Security service. The federal prosecutor, meanwhile, is investigating the possibility that the sabotage was a terrorist act. 

Meanwhile, it now seems the station will remain closed until the end of the year. The oil that leaked was intended to lubricate the main turbine, which overheated as a result and must now be repaired. Electrabel had said the station would restart on 15 September, but the damage appears more serious than first thought.

Municipalities across the country are demanding details of the federal government’s switch-off plan. At times of severe electricity shortage, the government has a plan to uncouple some more rural areas from the network to ease pressure on supply, most likely between 17.00 and 21.00, when demand is at its highest. However, no one outside the government or distributor Elia has a clear idea of what areas would be concerned, or under what exact circumstances. The government has promised to provide a definitive list of affected areas to the provinces next month.

Photo by Alan Hope

There is speculation that the closure of the Doel 4 nuclear power station in East Flanders could lead to widespread electricity shortages this year, as the incident that led to the closure is being investigated by State Security.

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