atw 2018-03v6


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

the subject...

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.

Christopher Weßelmann

– Editor in Chief –




Twilight of the Experts

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