Cracks discovered in the walls of Belgian nuclear reactors are causing unease among experts. The reason: a previously unknown phenomenon – material fatigue. There are fears that many more reactors could be affected.
Several thousand cracks have been discovered by corrosion experts in the pressure vessels of two reactors at the Belgian nuclear power stations Doel 3 and Tihange 2. Caused by a previously unknown phenomenon, material fatigue, it is feared the finding could have implications outside of Belgium.
The discovery of the cracks in the reactors “could be a problem for the entire global nuclear industry,” says Jan Bens, general director of the Belgian Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC), speaking on .
Nuclear material corrosion expert Walter Bogaerts, of Belgium’s University of Leuven says that corrosion factors have until now been “underestimated”, globally. He adds: “I would be really surprised if it had not also occurred elsewhere.”
Reactors could be shut down
Digby MacDonald, an expert in corrosion at the University of California, Berkley, analyzed the cracks together with Bogaerts and has advised nuclear reactor operators and government regulators that they should use ultrasound equipment to carefully examine reactors for cracks. “All reactor operators should be require under the leadership of regulatory authorities,” says MacDonald. He adds that the results of such detailed investigations “could be insignificant, or so strong that all the reactors must be shut down.”
According to nuclear experts, hydrogen from the reactor can penetrate the reactor wall and there in the steel increase the interior pressure causing small bubble and cracks from just a few millimeters in size “up to seven centimeters”, says Smital.
Using special ultrasound equipment, experts discovered 13,047 cracks in total in the Belgian reactor Doel 3 and 3,149 in Tihange 2. The reactors have been shut down, as a result. Whether they will once again be connected to the network is, as of yet, unclear.
Read more at Cracks appear in the nuclear industry