January 31, 2023

Taylor Daily Press

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After forty years, the plug will be pulled today Doel 3 |  interior

After forty years, the plug will be pulled today Doel 3 | interior

The Doel 3 nuclear reactor will produce electricity for the last time Friday evening, after a career spanning forty years. Then begins a process of closing and dismantling that lasted for years. Price: about 1 billion euros.

The nuclear reactor in the village of Doel in Antwerp Boulder, on the banks of the Scheldt River, was commissioned in 1982. And on Friday the plant will finally be launched with a capacity of 1,006 megawatts. This makes Doel 3 the first nuclear power plant in our country to be retired as part of the nuclear phase-out.

During those forty years, the power plant was unexpectedly shut down for three years. Cracks were discovered in 2012 in the steel walls of the reactor vessels at Doel 3 and Tihange 2. This has earned both manufacturers the nickname “crack mills”. In fact, it concerns the hydrogen flakes in the steel. Doel 3 was only allowed to restart in 2015, after extensive research and a green light from the International Atomic Energy Agency (FANC).

Nearly 20 years of work left in Doel 3

At about 9 pm, the reactor is disconnected from the power grid for good. This does not mean abandoning offices and workshops. “We’ve run the plant for forty years, but we’ve really only gotten to two-thirds. There’s still 17 to 19 years of work left on Doyle 3,” says Peter Moens, manager of the Doyle Nuclear Power Plant.

Several days after the reactor is shut down, all cables are disconnected from the reactor, the reactor cover is unscrewed and the reactor opens. This begins with the five-year hiatus phase. 157 fuel components – fuel – are lifted from the reactor and placed in cooling docks, where they must be cooled under water for 3 to 5 years.

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Doyle nuclear power plant © Bart Lee

The nuclear fuel is then sent to special containers, which are stored at the Doel site pending final underground storage. The power plant will also be purged of all radioactive particles for the first few years. This is done by chemical cleaning of the tubes.

In just five years, the final dismantling of the reactor and the disinfection of the remaining buildings will begin. This includes cutting the reactor’s internals, among other things. A process that would easily take another 10 to 12 years, followed by a conventional demolition of the rest of the buildings.

Are you still waiting for disassembly?

In the past period, it was suggested within the government – in light of the energy crisis – to suspend preparations for a while, so as not to take irreversible steps. In theory, such a postponement would be possible because during the five-year hiatus phase technically irreversible things do not happen, which is the case in the later phase.

Peter Moens, director of the Doyle Nuclear Power Plant

Peter Moens, director of the Doyle Nuclear Power Plant © Christoph Peters

But in practice, according to Mainz, this is practically impossible. For example, fuel will have to be ordered, which will take 36 months, staff will have to be trained and no study work has been done on postponement in recent years.

6.3 billion euros for all reactors

The demolition and dismantling of Doel 3 carries a price tag of around 1 billion euros, resulting from nuclear provisions put in place by operator Engie Electrabel. A total of €6.3 billion is expected to decommission all seven reactors at Doel and Tihange.

After the complete dismantling of all reactors at Doyle, in the end, only a depot will remain, where nuclear fuel will be stored pending final underground storage. Inge Elektrabel assumes that these buildings will be there for another eighty years, that is, until 2100.

Archive photo of the Doyle Nuclear Power Plant from 1979.

Archive photo of the Doyle Nuclear Power Plant from 1979. © Photo News

Director Moines says saying goodbye to Reactor 3 on Friday won’t be easy. “We’ll keep calm. But it does stir something up in people. We’re one big family. The staff has already gone through a lot: the nuclear exit, the planned shutdown, and then again messages about the postponement. But we’ll console and support each other on Friday.” Subsequently, this will be followed by a “homage” to Doel 3 to the employees of the nuclear power plant.

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