There was a fire at the French owned Belgian Tihange 3 nuclear reactor. The real news, however, is that three others are offline – two due to serious safety concerns.
“On Sunday morning, a fire happened at Electrabel’s high-voltage power station on the site of Tihange 3,” according to a spokesperson for Elia (the energy transmission operator for Belgium), as cited in Reuters:
“Fire takes another Belgian nuclear reactor offline, Posted:Sun, 30 Nov 2014 17:50:54 GMT, BRUSSELS, Nov 30 (Reuters) – Electrabel temporarily closed a nuclear reactor on Sunday after an electrical fire, Belgium’s electricity transmission system operator said, leaving only three of the Belgian firm’s seven nuclear plants in action.” http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/USenergyNews/~3/QPR6HuP7gTI/story01.htm
(Inspection teams are currently visiting Belgium nuclear facilities: “From 24 November to 5 December, a team of international experts will conduct a review of the nuclear security regime in Belgium during an IPPAS mission (International Physical Protection Advisory Service). This service is proposed by the International Atomic Energy Agency…” http://www.fanc.fgov.be/fr/page/communiques-de-presse/8.aspx)
In mid-August Belgian reactor Doel 4 (approx 35% French gov owned via GDF-Suez) was shut-down due to an oil leak in its steam turbine and is not expected to be back-online prior to the New Year. Doel 3 (1982) and Tihange 2 (1983) are still offline due to “cracks in steel reactor casings“. (See Reuters 14 Aug. 2014 at bottom). These also belong to GDF-Suez who wholly owns Electrabel. GDF-Suez and Hitachi plan to build a new nuclear power station at Moorside in a pasture by Sellafied.
Tests indicated that material similar to that found in the Doel 3 and Tihange 2 reactor pressure vessels “was more strongly affected by radiation than predicted by theoretical models“! Thus, apparently because the regulator is doing their job, they are offline. http://www.fanc.fgov.be/fr/news/doel-3/tihange-2-fanc-and-bel-v-decide-on-review-process/715.aspx
Huh? Whose “theoretical model”? These are old reactors which were completed in 1982 and 1983 and neutron bombardment degrades the materials which make up nuclear reactors at a faster rate than would normally occur. This is the reason that nuclear reactors were licensed for a fixed period of time. Furthermore, these are pressurized reactors which operate like a pressure cooker and so a) they are subjected to more stresses and strains and b) it is even more important for the pressure vessel to be strong. If these were cars and were not subjected to faster degradation due to neutron bombardment, they would be old and frightening to drive, especially at high speeds. So, what kind of game is GDF-Suez playing at? The US Davis Besse reactor containment sold to them by approx. 89% French govt. owned Areva is only 1 1/2 inches thick (3.81 cm) http://www.nrc.gov/info-finder/reactor/davi/davis-besse-shield-building-qa.pdf
Here is the frightening kicker! Electrabel (i.e. GDF-Suez) was unhappy with the findings and apparently wants to keep testing and manipulating how the data is evaluated to prove what they want to prove – i.e. that the reactor pressure vessels are ok, when they clearly are not: “In order to explain these unexpected results, Electrabel” [i.e. GDF-Suez] “immediately initiated a second series of tests and announced on 12 June 2014 that it would take several months to run these tests and to analyse the results. In the Summer of 2014, Electrabel initiated a third series of tests in order to confirm the preliminary results of the first two test series…” An expert evaluation team is being brought in. http://www.fanc.fgov.be/fr/news/doel-3/tihange-2-fanc-and-bel-v-decide-on-review-process/715.aspx It appears that the experts were brought in by the regulator to act as an arbiter to keep GDF-Suez from (seemingly) trying to manipulate the data until it gets what it wants, though it could be the opposite.
Cracks in French Owned UK Nuclear Reactors
As Reuters so aptly pointed out (14-Aug-14), France has had woes with its aging “fleet” of reactors in Belgium and the UK. Maybe we should just call them worn out? They suggest that the problems could be indicative of similar problems in France’s own reactors, because of similarity in designs. Approximately 85% French government owned EDF had closed four reactors in the UK by August “after inspections found a crack in one of the boilers.” (http://www.bbc.com/news/business-29058644 “Nuclear reactors may stay offline until end of year, EDF says“, 4 September 2014) The others were approved to go back online for end of November. The Heysham 1-1 reactor which had a crack on a “boiler spine” appears still offline. It is not expected back online before the New Year. EDF had foot-dragged for over EIGHT MONTHS before taking Heysham 1-1 offline, according to the UK Nuclear regulator, ONR, with ONR’s permission! (See toward bottom of page).
Recall that Neutron bombardment degrades the materials which make up nuclear reactors at a faster rate than would normally occur. This is the reason that nuclear reactors were licensed for a fixed period of time and one major reason why it is a dangerously bad idea to extend their life, as is currently happening. While on the surface this suggests that new reactors would be better, the reactors recently under construction in the US, Finland and France have been characterized by shoddy construction, including substandard concrete and improper spacing of rebar, as documented by the governments themselves. So, on the one hand there is the problem of materials weakened, and even cracked, through age, corrosion and neutron bombardment, and, on the other hand, materials which may be weak from the start.
According to the US Oak Ridge National Lab,
“there is currently little or no data on long-term concrete performance” for nuclear power plants, even though they are largely built of concrete!
According to Oak Ridge National Lab: “Nuclear power plant operating environments create material degradation mechanisms that may be unique or environmentally exacerbated. In this figure, Irradiation-Assisted Stress Corrosion Cracking has resulted in cracking at the head of a baffle bolt.”
According to Chopra, 2010, for the US NRC: “Austenitic stainless steels are used extensively as structural alloys in the internal components of light water reactor (LWR) pressure vessels because of their relatively high strength, ductility, and fracture toughness. However, exposure to neutron irradiation for extended periods changes the microstructure and microchemistry of these steels and degrades their fracture properties. This report presents a critical assessment of the susceptibility of LWR core internal materials to irradiation effects such as irradiation-assisted stress corrosion cracking (IASCC), neutron embrittlement, void swelling, and irradiation-induced stress relaxation.” (http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/contract/cr7027/: “Degradation of LWR Core Internal Materials Due to Neutron Irradiation (NUREG/CR-7027)“, Prepared by: O.K. Chopra (2010) See: https://miningawareness.wordpress.com/2014/08/15/neutrons-in-nuclear-reactors-bombs-make-non-radioactive-materials-radioactive-accelerate-reactor-degradation/
Did cable aging contribute to Sunday’s Fire?
“Cable aging is a concern that currently faces existing NPPs. Degradation of cables is primarily caused by long-term exposure to high temperatures. Additionally, stretches of cables that have been buried underground are frequently exposed to groundwater. Wholesale replacement of cables would likely be a “show stopper” for long-term NPP operation.” http://www.ornl.gov/science-discovery/nuclear-science/research-areas/reactor-technology/light-water-reactor-sustainability
According to the UK’s ONR, “As reported in the last quarterly reports, during the statutory outage of Heysham 1 Reactor 1, November 2013, an anomalous result was found during non-destructive testing of a section of one of the multiple boilers. EdF Energy Nuclear Generation Limited (NGL) subsequently justified a period of six month operation of Reactor 1 on the remaining boilers with the anomalous boiler isolated. ONR assessed the safety justification for this mode of operation and was content that Reactor 1 could operate safely for this period.
9. In the intervening period, NGL developing extensive testing techniques to explain this anomalous result to support future operation of Reactor 1.
10. Reactor 1 was subsequently shutdown on the 10th of June 2014, before the end of the six month period of operation, to allow NGL to deploy the inspection techniques to investigate this anomaly. During deployment of these techniques, they discovered a cracked region in the affected boiler spine around one of the key structural welds.
11. In light of the confirmation of a cracked region on the affected boiler spine on Heysham 1 Reactor 1, known as 1D1 (1-delta-1), NGL has taken a positive and conservative decision to shutdown the other reactors at Heysham 1 and Hartlepool to allow investigations on all of the 8 boiler spines in each reactor. The reactors at Heysham 1 and Hartlepool have a similar boiler design and ONR is satisfied that this issue only affects these reactors due to the nature of their design.
12. NGL are carrying out extensive work to allow the reactors to return to service safely which ONR is closely monitoring. ONR will require an acceptable safety case from NGL before the planned return to service of these Reactors.” © Office for Nuclear Regulation,  Open Government Licence v2.0. http://www.onr.org.uk/llc/2014/heysham-3.pdf
“NFLA Chair, Councillor Mark Hackett said: “Once again I am concerned to hear about another serious safety issue affecting our ageing nuclear reactors. I call on both EDF and the ONR to explain why it has taken nine months since the fault at the Heysham nuclear reactor 1 was discovered to decide now on taking the drastic step of completely closing down four nuclear reactors at two sites.” (12 Aug. 2014; Emphasis our own.) http://www.nuclearpolicy.info/docs/news/NFLA_EDF_Heysham_Hartlepool_closure.pdf
On Oct. 10, 2014, Colin Weir, of EDF’s Hunterston B, reported that two of the 6,000 bricks making up its graphite core had a new type of crack called Keyway Root Crack, which he says was as predicted.
More from Belgium’s Nuclear Authority:
“Review of the post-radiation mechanical resistance tests by an international scientist panel (International Review Board)
One of the requirements set out by FANC in connection with the restart of both reactors consisted of a series of tests designed to assess how radiation affects the mechanical properties of hydrogen-flaked steel. For these tests, a test piece of hydrogen-flaked material similar to that of the Doel 3 and Tihange 2 reactor pressure vessels was submitted to intense irradiation in one of the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre’s research reactors during several weeks. On 26 March 2014, the preliminary results of these tests led Electrabel to bring forward the planned outages Doel 3 and Tihange 2. The preliminary test results showed that one of the material’s mechanical properties (i.e. the fracture toughness) was more strongly affected by radiation than predicted by theoretical models. In order to explain these unexpected results, Electrabel immediately initiated a second series of tests and announced on 12 June 2014 that it would take several months to run these tests and to analyse the results. In the Summer of 2014, Electrabel initiated a third series of tests in order to confirm the preliminary results of the first two test series.
In order to consolidate the Regulatory Body’s analysis of the results of the mechanical resistance tests, the information obtained from these tests will be submitted to a panel of Belgian and foreign scientists selected by FANC. The members of this panel are:
I. Delvallée-Nunio (France)
R. Nanstad (United States)
T. Pardoen (Belgium)
H. Schultz (Germany)
W. Server (United States)
N. Soneda (Japan)
K. Wallin (Finland)
T. Williams (United Kingdom)
It is expected of this expert panel (International Review Board) that they review the relevance of the licensee’s hypotheses concerning the impact of radiation on the mechanical properties of a material affected by flaw indications due to hydrogen flaking and concerning the transposition of the results on the Doel 3 and Tihange 2 reactor pressure vessels. To this end, they will consider the raw results from the test series and the hypotheses formulated by Electrabel to explain the unexpected results of the fracture toughness test. Furthermore, they will also asses the relevance of the methodology proposed by Electrabel for transposing the test results to the Doel 3 and Tihange 2 reactor pressure vessels. During this review process, the Scientific Council for Ionising Radiation will act as an observer….” Continues here: http://www.fanc.fgov.be/fr/news/doel-3/tihange-2-fanc-and-bel-v-decide-on-review-process/715.aspx (The original says asses instead of assess!)
“Flaw indications in the reactor pressure vessels of Doel 3 & Tihange 2
This note provides a summary of the information available on the 12th of October2012.
1. Purpose Summary of the available information and preliminary evaluation pertaining to the indications of defects found in the Doel 3 and Tihange 2 reactor pressure vessels…
‘158 defect indications of an apparently different type were selected on the basis of the criteria used for by this UT-inspection, especially in one of the three forged rings (SA-508-cl.3). • These indications appear to be a quasi-laminar type of flaw. The flaws are more or less parallel to the inner/outer surface of the pressure vessel (slopes up to 10° could be observed), located in and outside the inspected zone. • Considering the fact that this inspection method is not qualified for detection at such locations nor for this (new) type of indications, precise information about shape or dimension was not available at this stage. A first evaluation shows that these sub-surface flaws are almost circular in shape with a mean diameter of about 15 mm (maximum 30 mm), with a flaw density up to 40 indications per dm³.”
“Studies are being performed to analyse and, if possible, to validate and confirm the structural integrity of the vessel.” Small excerpt from: http://www.fanc.fgov.be/GED/00000000/3200/3288.pdf (Emphasis our own).
According to wikipedia: “Doel 3 was shut down at the beginning of June 2012 for a planned inspection. The ultrasonic inspection revealed that there were thousands of semi laminar flaws in the reactor vessel’s steel rings forged by Rotterdam Drydocks. These were determined to be hydrogen flakes, which influence steel brittleness and vessel pressure.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doel_Nuclear_Power_Station
The Greens provided the following study: http://www.greens-efa.eu/fileadmin/dam/Documents/Studies/Flawed%20Reactor%20Pressure%20Vessels.pdf It questions the use of lab testing to mimic a material which has been subjected to 30 years of real stress.
“UPDATE 2-Belgian Doel 4 nuclear reactor closed till year-end Posted:Thu, 14 Aug 2014 16:06:28 GMT
* Further outage set to impact GDF Suez earnings (Adds GDF Suez quote on sabotage, detail on capacity). http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/USenergyNews/~3/09eAhKpHxA8/story01.htm
NB: Most emphasis our own throughout.