A new Fukushima?
by Giovanni Masini. Pictures by Ivo Saglietti.
From Doel (Belgium).
Why Aachen, in West Germany, distributed iodine pills for free in the whole region? From September the authorities of the German city started a two-months-long prevention program in order to contain the collateral damages “in case of a serious nuclear accident”.
A similar thing was done by Netherlands, that in the same week started to distribute iodine pills– main defense for the organism and in particular for the thyroid against the radiations – to 3 millions of citizens.
What Germans and Dutch are worried about are the two nuclear power plants of Doel and Tihange, placed in Belgian territory but very close to the borders. Two nuclear power plants built during the Seventies and that recently are raising concerns. It is not by chance that the decision of Aachen and The Hague came few time after the publication of investigations and scientific studies warning about the safety conditions of the two Belgian power plants.
The denounces of the scientific community
The international scientific community wonders about the reason of the presence of some cracks in the metal walls, 20 centimeters thick, of the reactor 3 in Doel and of the reactor 2 in Tihange. Among the others, a study by two professors of the renown Leuven University, René Boonen and Jan Peirs, highlighted the inconsistency, 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 in dimension.
The reactors are cracked: the flakes keep on expanding and could cause a nuclear disaster.
Contacted by Gli Occhi della Guerra to get explanations, however, the two academics refused to answer, hiding behind a radio silence to “generate a climate of good will”. The issue is crucial yet, especially in a country where the nuclear energy represents the 60% of the total energy supply.
Maybe it is not by chance that in the end of September the rector of the KU Leuven Luc Sels, through the important newspaper Standaard, asked the academics to “stop making great statements” to the press.
He probably referred to the intervention – published few days earlier by the same newspaper – in which Professor Walter Bogaerts, lecturer of materials engineering and nuclear engineering at the same university, asked for the immediate closure of the two reactors based right on the research of Boonen and Peirs.
Unlike his young colleagues, however, Bogaerts does not refuse to be interviewed. On the contrary he reaffirms, providing new argumentation, his thesis.
The cracks on the reactors were noted for the first time in 2012, but after some inspections the reactors got the authorisation to go on with their activity.
They were immediately identified as hydrogen flakes, flakes in the metallic material naturally due to chemical processes of hydrogen transformation. “The normal size of the hydrogen flakes is the same of a nail – Professor Bogaerts explains – but in 2012 they founded flakes up to 4 centimeters big. And new inspections done in 2014 started detecting a growth of these cracks, both in number and in dimension”.
In fact 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. And there is more. The biggest flakes – which luckily are parallel and not perpendicular to the walls – in 2014 grew in dimension from 4 centimeters to 9 centimeters.
After new examinations done during the last year , the FANC announced on its official website that “there were not developments” in the situation of the hydrogen flakes. “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 that they found new and bigger 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 preoccupying by the fact that, after each inspection, the reactors always got the authorisation to work.
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