atw Vol. 63 (2018) | Issue 3 ı March
Twilight of the Experts
Dear reader, With the political phase-out from the peaceful use of nuclear energy in Germany in 2011, a few weeks
after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the resulting accidents at the Fukushima nuclear power
plants, the country not only loses a reliable, domestic, environmentally friendly and inexpensive energy source, it also
leaves a gap for those whose main objective is the fundamental rejection of nuclear energy.
Although the German anti-nuclear scene is keeping itself
afloat with constant demands for an even earlier complete
phase-out before 2022, the recurrence of such demands
like a prayer wheel does not seem to be very satisfying, also
thanks to the unspectacular and accident-free operation of
the German nuclear power plants.
Creativity is called for here when there are – geographically
speaking – such obvious new thematic objects. After
all, the German phase-out of nuclear power with its
coupled “energy turnaround” should also become another
export hit for German policymakers; whatever other
successful concepts from Germany may have asserted
themselves on the world political stage. Clearly, then,
targeted actionism against nuclear power plants close to
the border is an obvious course of action. Europe continues
to be the world's leading region with 182 nuclear power
plants and 26 % of Europe's electricity comes from nuclear
energy. As a result, the neighbouring countries of Germany,
the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Switzerland, the Czech
Republic, the Slovak Republic and, as a newcomer, Poland
can be brought into the spotlight.
Belgium's seven nuclear power plants at the Doel and
Tihange sites, among others, are continually being taken
up with striking consistency and selective targeted actions.
The plants supply about 50 % of the country's own
electricity supply, experience with the operation of nuclear
power plants has existed since 1962 and the operational
lifetime of the plants has been extended several times.
Belgian realism and pragmatism are also evident here:
individual governments have repeatedly considered the
early shut-down of nuclear power plants, but also under
the premiss that the security of electricity supply is not
compromised. Exit: None!
First of all, the nuclear power plant units Tihange-2 and
Doel-3 were made subject around Christmas 2015: Realted
with new findings on the material of the two reactor
pressure vessels and production-related inconsistencies,
catchy keywords were generated: The terms “clapped-out”
reactor pressure vessels and “crumbling reactors”, introduced
by relevant anti atomic protagonists, made the
round. Nonetheless, the expertise and the very open communication
on the subject by the Belgian supervisory
authority Federaal Agentschap voor Nucleaire Controle
(FANC) were lost in most of the media. Hydrogen flakes,
brittle fracture characteristics and preheated emergency
cooling water are simply not attractive topics. Nevertheless,
comprehensive factual information is also available in
Germany, for example on the websites of the Federal
Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation,
Construction and Nuclear Safety (BMUB).
As a next coup against Tihange, the German antinuclear
scene then landed the extensive distribution of
iodine tablets in the Aachen area as a “precautionary
measure” against the imminent nuclear “Super-GAU” from
Belgium in order to promote nuclear anxiety culture. The
action was successful if fears were to be stirred up. In more
than 50 years of nuclear energy use in Germany, such an
action had been judged to make little sense in expert
circles, also with consideration of the risks of uncontrolled
self-medication with iodine.
At the beginning of February 2018 a letter from the
FANC was opportune. The letter was passed to “investigative”
press and showed that there had recently been
an accumulation of “precursor” events in the Tihange-1
nuclear power plant block.
The “investigative” press quickly published the headline
“Tihange-1 more dangerous than previously known”.
Without going into the safety-related details of “precursor
events”, the BMUB is quoted here:“... The current reporting
gives the impression that, based on the number of
so-called precursor events, it is possible to draw conclusions
about the safety of a plant. But this is not the case.
Rather, they are probabilistically calculated events that
help to take a closer look at a particular scenario. These
very complex precursor calculations are an element of a
comprehensive security architecture. Probability calculations
can help to further optimize a learning safety system
of this or other facilities...” (translation, original text only
available in German language).
Further discomfort among the population will nevertheless
remain; goal achieved.
However, there are two other aspects to consider
related with the reporting, which already leave a very
negative connotation. On the one hand, the driving journalists
like to call themselves “investigative” and “experts”.
The outlined reports show that the term “investigative” has
little impact, for example, the same anti-nuclear protagonists
are constantly being presented and the opposite is
more likely to be measured. If the “investigative” journalist
were to act as an expert on his own behalf, a mystery of the
Middle Ages would finally be solved: squaring the circle.
Another negative connotation remains when “experts”
appear in coverage who offer their services elsewhere on
Nuclear energy continues to be used and operated
safely in Belgium. If you want to get your own impression
of the situation, you can access the web today and access a
wide range of sources; from the EU stress tests according
to Fukushima, through the documents on the nuclear
safety conferences of the International Atomic Energy
Agency to the supervisory authorities and technical expert
If you are looking for more cabaret, please refer to
Twitter and the 280-character opinions there (e.g.
# tihange), which also complete the picture of atomic
expertise shown here.
– Editor in Chief –
Twilight of the Experts