A new Fukushima?
by Giovanni Masini. Pictures by Ivo Saglietti.
From Doel (Belgium).
Why is Aachen, located in the west of Germany, distributing iodine pills to the whole region free of charge? Since September the authorities of the German city have started a two-months-long prevention program in order to contain collateral damage “in case of a serious nuclear accident”.
A similar program was implemented in the Netherlands, that in the same week started to distribute iodine pills– specifically to defend the body and in particular the thyroid against radiation – to 3 millions of citizens.
What Germans and the Dutch are worried about are Doel and Tihange’s two nuclear power plants, located in Belgian territory but very close to the borders. The two nuclear power plants were built during the seventies and have recently begun raising concerns. It is not by chance that the decision taken by Aachen and The Hague came so soon after publication of the investigations and scientific studies warning about the safety conditions of the two power plants.
Denouncement by the scientific community
The international scientific community has raised concerns regarding the presence of some cracks in the metal walls, 20 centimeters thick, of reactor 3 of the Doel plan and of reactor 2 in Tihange. Among others, a study by two renowned professors from Leuven University, René Boonen and Jan Peirs, highlights the inconsistencies, from a scientific point of view, of the official explanations provided by the Belgian Federal Agency for the Control of the Nuclear Energy (FANC, ed) to justify the expansion of these cracks both in number and dimension.
The reactors are cracked: the fractures continue to expand and could lead to a nuclear disaster.
Contacted by Gli Occhi della Guerra in an attempt of finding an explanation, however, the two academics refused to answer, hiding behind a radio silence to “generate a climate of good will”. This is a crucial issue, especially in a country where nuclear energy represents 60% of the total energy supply.
It is likely not a coincidence that at the end of September the rector of the Catholic University of Louvain, Luc Sels, through the important newspaper Standaard, appealed to other academics to “stop making inflammatory statements” to the press.
He was likely referring to the article – published few days earlier by the same newspaper – in which Professor Walter Bogaerts, lecturer of material engineering and nuclear engineering at the same university, asking for the immediate closure of the two reactors based on the research completed by Boonen and Peirs.
Unlike his younger colleagues, however, Bogaerts did not refuse to be interviewed. On the contrary he has doubled down on what he has doubled down, providing additional arguments, the following is his thesis.
The cracks on the reactors were noticed for the first time in 2012, but after inspection of the reactors authorisation was given to continue operations.
They were immediately identified as hydrogen flakes, naturally occuring cracks in the metallic material caused by the chemical processes of hydrogen transformation. “The normal size of hydrogen flakes are around that of a fingernail – Professor Bogaerts explains – but in 2012 they founded flakes up to 4 centimeters long. Following new inspections completed in 2014, the flakes were found to have grown even further, both in number and in dimension”.
The second round of inspections found 13047 cracks in Doel and 3149 in Tihange: a double-digit-increase, in percentage, compared to two years earlier. Not only this, but the biggest flakes – which luckily are parallel and not perpendicular to the walls – in 2014 grew from 4 centimeters to 9 centimeters in dimension.
After new examinations completed last year , FANC announced on its official website that “there were no new developments” regarding the hydrogen flakes situation. “Thanks to the intervention of Greenpeace Belgium, however – Bogaerts explains – the FANC was forced to publish a report commissioned to the French agency Areva, saying in fact there had been found new and larger flakes compared to 2014”.
According to Bogaerts – who contests the official version provided by the Belgian authorities, often saying that the cracks already existed and had not been detected during the previous inspections – such an increase can be explained “only by a growth of the flakes during the operations”. A theory made even more troubling by the fact that, after each inspection, the reactors always received authorisation to operate.
Contacted by Gli Occhi della Guerra, the FANC did not provide any answer or clarification. Yet is a very delicate issue, because if the cracks connect among themselves the material contained in the reactor will pour out, with unimaginable consequences. The power plant in Doel, in particular, is placed in the outskirts of Aachen, in the middle of a metropolitan area that counts hundreds of thousands of inhabitants.
Few kilometers far from the reactors, to make matters worse, rise the huge port of the Fleming city, with refineries and petrochemical industries among the biggest of Europe all around the power plant.
Power plant that, according to the ecologist groups and a growing percentage of scientists, is a real time bomb in the heart of Europe, worrying Dutch, Germans but also more and more Belgians.
Pictures by Ivo Saglietti
Born in Toulon, France, he started in Turin as a cameraman, realizing some political and social reportage. In 1975 he began taking photos, working in the streets and in the squares of the protest and in 1977 he moved to Paris. Then he started his journeys as a reporter-photographe, at the beginning with French photo agencies, and then with American photo agencies and international magazines ( Newsweek, Der Siegel, Time, The New York Times ), covering crisis and conflict scenarios in Latin America, Africa, Balkans, Middle-East. Read the whole bio