Nuclear waste in Belgium

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We have probably the worst situation in Western Europe, with a French-owned nuclear park of seven reactors. Three of them have passed the 40 years limit, exploitation has been given a legal right to go to 50 years. These reactors are frequently stopped because of unplanned technical problems. Two other reactors, Tihange 2 and Doel 3 are riddled by numerous flaws and their reactor buildings are not seriously tested. The control organism, FANC, is notoriously unable to stop the security breaches committed by ENGIE. The politicians of MR and NVA, of the now ending government coalition, want to build another reactor and have all reactors exploited during 50 working years.

The waste

In 1975, I was at the university and asked in a debate one of the bosses of the starting electronuclear industry what they were going to do with the nuclear waste. He answered that this was a problem they planned to tackle before the year 2000.

What they did was to dump their waste, up to 30.000 tons, in the Atlantic Ocean from 1960 up till 1982.

Three categories of nuclear waste:

A: short-lived, low and medium-level waste
B: Like A waste but containing larger quantities of long-lived nuclides such as this poses a risk to humans and the environment
C: high level waste containing long-lived nuclides.

Category A
It is stocked on Belgoprocess site in Dessel. Buildings above surface called 150 and 151. Total of 16.000 m³ of waste. Half of the containers presented an alkali-silica reaction, the cement reacting chemically with the sand in the concrete in presence of water created by the radiation and the metals in the container. Those containers must be reconditioned and placed in a new building, under construction, which will free capacity for more waste, buildings 150 and 151 being filled to 98 % of capacity.

Category B and C
About 4.500 m³ and 4.000 t spent fuel (Heavy Metal) of which 66 t spent MOX fuel.

The spent fuel is lying in the spent fuel basins, the so-called swimming pools, of which 1 is joined to every reactor for recently used fuel and in two central pools, one in Tihange the other one in Doel. Those are now almost filled. These are ordinary industrial storage buildings: they would not resist an attack by a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) or the impact of a modern big airplane. A new building is planned in Tihange for long term storage in dry caskets, another one in Doel.

The final solution researched is deep disposal in the “Boom clay”, the rightly named HADES-project. This geological formation is too near to the surface (approx. 200 to 300 m) and not thick enough (approx. 100m). These data are a lot lower than even those of Bure. The Boom clay also contains more water. With the heat from the radioactive materials and the ventilation, mandatory because of the hydrogen produced by the nuclear waste, the clay will dry and crack. The present government decided not to decide and postpone the decision to 2100. These “clean-up” dates are like the horizon: they move backwards when approached. Meanwhile the budget estimation flew up from € 3 billion in 2011 to € 8 or even € 10 billion in 2018.

In short: there is no long-term waste management possible in Belgium

The Belgian Center for Nuclear Studies (SCK-CEN) is working on a €1.6 Billion reactor-project called MYRRHA, a reactor piloted by a particle accelerator and cooled by lead and bismuth. The sales pitch claims it will be able to transform type C (long life, highly radioactive) waste into less dangerous substances. But it would also produce very profitable medical isotopes and new materials for NPP’s. A jack of all trades... is often a man without a trade.

The main danger at this moment in time lies in the exportation of Belgian waste to a country that has developed an installation, probably to France. This would be contrary to international treaties on this subject. But level C waste has already been exported to the La Hague facility in France, that kept the fissile Uranium and Plutonium and returned the rest to sender. Belgium also accepted to store the small amount of nuclear waste from Luxemburg. The principle “each country keeps its own waste” is already eroded.

Leo Tubbax
Nucléaire Stop Kernenergie