Cross-border cooperation on nuclear safety between the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany leaves a lot to be desired, the Dutch Safety Board has concluded in a new report.
Although the report says that the chances of a serious incident are “small”, it warns that cross-border nuclear accident cooperation would “not run smoothly” and urges the authorities to improve contingency planning.
Belgium’s nuclear reactors have long courted controversy due to their age, well-documented safety concerns and their close proximity to the country’s borders with Germany and the Netherlands.
The Dutch Safety Board report looked into how well the three countries are working together on aspects like evacuation strategies, plant maintenance and contingency planning.
Its report highlighted that radiation treatment measures vary between the three countries. For example, Germany has issued iodine tablets to some border communities while towns on the other side of the borders go without. Evacuation plans also differ.
That is why the safety experts warned that without further measures, a potential nuclear accident “will not run smoothly” and could risk causing “confusion and unrest”.
The watchdog warned that public safety concerns must be addressed properly and more efforts should be made to communicate nuclear incident reports when they happen.
In its conclusions, the report also warns that the three countries have not taken linguistic and cultural differences fully into account, and urges the Netherlands to join a Belgo-German agreement on joint decision-making that was set up in December 2016.
But the Safety Board did praise the efforts that have been made in some areas. All three countries now notify each other of an imminent emergency “as quickly as possible” and have access to each other’s radiation measurements.
The report did not examine the technical safety aspects of the nuclear plants involved, including Belgium’s Tihange and Doel facilities, as well as Germany and the Netherlands’ Borssele and Emsland power plants.
Both Tihange and Doel have given the authorities cause for concern after micro-fissures were found in some of the reactors. Reactors 2 and 3, respectively, of the power plants were shut down in 2013 to address the situation and were restarted in 2015.
Belgium’s government has been accused by anti-nuclear activists of endangering the safety of its citizens by extending the life of the reactors, which were only designed to have a shelf life of 30 years. That is because the country’s energy mix depends heavily on atom-smashing (40% of total energy needs and 55% of electricity comes from nuclear).
Interior Minister Jan Jambon insisted last June that the security of the power plants is not in doubt and they will continue to operate until their extended deadlines end in the mid-2020s.