Belgium builds furnace to remelt steel from decommissioned nuclear plants
The nuclear research centre SCK-CEN in Mol, Antwerp province, will receive government support to develop a furnace to melt down steel from decommissioned nuclear power plants, Energy minister Tinne Van der Straeten and Economy minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne announced in the federal parliament on Tuesday.
For some time , the federal government has been preparing the country for decommissioning at least five of its seven nuclear reactors - "the most expensive and delicate worksite ever", according to Van der Straeten. Dismantling the reactors involves three types of metals. Non-radioactive metals will simply be recycled. Contaminated materials are sent to the National Agency for Radioactive Waste and Enriched Fissile Materials.
The third type of metal from decommissioned reactors is partially radioactive. This can also be recycled but requires a special furnace. The government is now releasing financial support to develop such a furnace, Van der Straeten (Groen) and deputy prime minister Dermagne (PS) announced on Tuesday.
"Building up expertise"
According to Dermagne, the infrastructure will "lead to economic development and sustainable local employment in the decommissioning sector". "The investment allows SCK-CEN, with our universities and companies, to build up expertise which can be exported to other countries," Van der Straeten says.
In 2003, the federal government decided to close all nuclear power plants in Belgium by 2025. However, this nuclear exit was delayed. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the resulting energy crisis in 2022, the government decided to extend the nuclear phase-out. It was later announced that the closure of reactors Doel 4 and Tihange 3 would be postponed for 10 years.
Engie, the parent company of Engie Electrabel and operator of Belgium's nuclear power plants, aims to reach a final agreement with the Belgian government about the nuclear extension by 30 June, the company said in May. The government and Engie have been negotiating for several months on how to achieve and finance the agreed extension.
Earlier this year, on 31 January, reactor 2 of the Tihange nuclear power plant in the province of Liège was permanently shut down.
Nuclear power plant of Tihange near Huy in the province of Liège, Belgium © PHOTO JOHN THYS / AFP