Belgium’s nuclear regulator is warning that cracks in the steel containment vessels at the aging Doel 3 and Tihange 2 reactors could point to a design issue for nuclear plants around the world.
“This may be a global problem for the entire nuclear industry,” Jan Bens, director general of the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANS), said last month. “The solution is to implement worldwide, accurate inspections of all 430 nuclear power plants.”
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“As reactors age, the steel of the reactor pressure vessel is damaged—or embrittled—by radiation,” Greenpeace explains. “According to the scientists, hydrogen from the water in the pressure vessel – which cools the nuclear fuel core – may be corroding the steel by injecting hydrogen atoms into the steel of the vessel itself.”
After FANC discovered the pressure vessel cracks in the Belgian reactors in 2012, it “dismissed the issue as a manufacturing problem and okayed the reactor to be start up again in 2013,” Ulrich and Glorieux write, “while acknowledging that they did not to fully understand what was happening inside the reactor steel. However, further testing revealed unexplained and unexpected embrittlement of a test steel sample. Following these findings, both reactors were shut down again since March 24, 2014.”
Now, material scientists say the problem could be the result of normal reactor operations. “This means the cracks may be growing in size, and furthermore, that this could be endemic to the global nuclear fleet. Simply put: the findings in Belgium have serious safety implications for every nuclear reactor on the planet.” (h/t to the Ontario Clean Air Alliance for pointing us to this story)
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