German region protests, fears Fukushima-style disaster after Belgium restarts aging reactor

AFP-JIJI

Belgian power utility Electrabel restarted an aging nuclear reactor Tuesday after a near two-year shutdown, angering neighboring Germany, which fears the danger of a Fukushima-style meltdown.

Electrabel said it put the Tihange 2 reactor back on line “in complete safety,” despite opposition from officials in adjacent North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state.

Belgium has been hit by a series of nuclear mishaps in recent years, with three of the country’s seven reactors at one point closed, due in two of the cases to the discovery of micro-cracks in the reactor casings.

The Belgian nuclear authority gave the greenlight to relaunch Tihange 2, as well as another reactor near Antwerp, in November, giving Electrabel permission to operate the plant until its legislated final closure date in 2023.

Garrelt Duin, North Rhine-Westphalia’s economy minister, had warned strongly against the relaunch of Tihange, calling it outright “irresponsible.

Four of Germany’s 10 biggest cities — Cologne, Düsseldorf, Dortmund and Essen—- are located within the state.

The city of Aachen, only 60 km (40 miles) from Tihange, said it had explored legal options to stop the reopening but without success.

Germany, unlike Belgium and France, decided to phase out what was a substantial nuclear energy program after the 2011 disaster in Fukushima.

At the time, Belgium also committed to a withdrawal from nuclear power but has since scaled back its ambitions due to a lack of reliable alternatives.