Watchdog blind to Belgian nuclear safety
7 December 2005
BRUSSELS — Belgium and India are the world’s only nuclear energy countries that have not had their power plants inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
And amid concerns about Belgium’s nuclear safety, newspaper ‘Het Nieuwsblad’ reported on Wednesday it is being left up to personnel to supervise safety at the nation’s nuclear power plants, located at Doel and Tihange.
In the control room, a team of eight to 10 people operate the reactors, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Eight to 10 people is the strict legal minimum. In France and Germany, there are 18 people for it,” the national secretary of Socialist union Gazelco said.
The team examines hundreds of metres of territory and responds to the dozens of alarms that go off every day. “The work can be best compared with piloting a large plane,” one insider said.
The work of that internal team of operators is supervised by three staff members of Belgium’s nuclear watchdog, the Associatie Vinçotte Nucleair (AVN). Three AVN workers are always present at the nuclear facilities.
Their work is in turn supervised by the federal nuclear supervision agency FANC-AFCN, but one worker at the nuclear plant claims to have never seen an agency inspector.
Reports emerged this week that a recent audit has criticised three of FANC-AFCN’s directors of being incompetent, indicating the agency has been failing in its supervisory role for years at significant costs to Belgian taxpayers.
Concerns were then raised about the safety of Belgium’s nuclear power plants and it was revealed on Wednesday that the plants have never been inspected by the IAEA, the only real independent authority in the sector.
Lut Van De Velde, an official with Belgian energy company Electrabel — owner and operator of the two nuclear power plant locations — said the IAEA will inspect the plants for the first time next year.
A taskforce has been set up to ensure the power plants pass the independent audit to avoid the embarrassment the Borssele power plant in the Netherlands incurred when it was forced to close for several weeks after a poor assessment report.
Since the terror attacks in New York and Madrid, additional safety measure to ward of terrorism have been examined. However, one worker said there are still no armed guards with dogs guarding the power plants such as in the US.
However, fencing will be made higher, more surveillance cameras will be installed and a more intense screening of staff will be carried out. Mobile phones will be banned from the site because they can be used to detonate explosives.
[Copyright Expatica News 2005]
Subject: Belgian news