In a previous article, I discussed how the French government has sought to suppress evidence regarding the massive costs that a nuclear accident would entail. But an accident is not the only danger facing nuclear reactors as a recent incident at Belgium’s Doel 4 nuclear reactor makes clear. Some person -most likely an employee at the plant- deliberately damaged an oil drainage system from a turbine, which caused so much damage that the plant will be closed until after the New Year. Now Belgium may face blackouts if winter demand for electricity is particularly high. The Doel 4 incident is particularly worrying because the plant is located in a heavily populated part of Europe.
Remarkably two other reactors are also offline in Belgium, because cracks were found in reactor casings, which means that Belgium has lost more than half of its nuclear capacity. While people often argue that renewable power is too intermittent to be relied upon, events in Belgium again make the point that there are also major risks in relying on nuclear power. In this particular case, we know very little about the sabotage. Was it carried out by an isolated individual? If so, what was their motivation? Clearly threats to to the integrity of nuclear reactors do not always come from outside the plant. Currently the case in Belgium is being investigated by the Belgian police. Do these forces have the expertise to investigate nuclear crimes? The Belgian case also should make security experts and plant owners question their practices. How carefully are plant employees screened, and what monitoring systems are in place?
While the news from Belgium is worrying, there is some good news across the English Channel. In a post at Cleantechnica, Jake Richardson discusses the temporary closure of four nuclear reactors in Britain after a problem was found with one. Fortunately, Richardson argues, wind power is currently producing a record amount of energy in Britain, and will be able to replace the lost electricity. He also points out the irony that wind power is often criticized as being intermittent, at the same time it is now preventing a crisis. It is worth remembering that Denmark now generates nearly 30% of its energy from wind power, while Germany -the largest economic power in the EU- is the European leader in total wind power generation. Perhaps the events in Britain are a foreshadowing of a trend from nuclear to wind in the coming decades.
Want to see a review of a book on the Fukushima disaster? Click here. For a broader discussion of the dangers associated with nuclear energy, click here.
Shawn Smallman, Portland State University