Second Belgian reactor enters retirement

31 January 2023

Unit 2 of the Tihange nuclear power plant in Belgium has been permanently shut down after 40 years of operation. The 1008 MWe (net) pressurised water reactor is the second to be shut down under the country's nuclear phase out policy.

Tihange 2 (Image: Electrabel)

"The first activities related to the post operational phase and subsequent dismantling will begin," said operator Electrabel, the Belgian subsidiary of France's Engie.

It said that shortly after the 31 January shutdown, operators will open the reactor for one final time, remove all the fuel and transfer it to the cooling pools. In order to remove as much radioactivity from the reactor systems as possible, workers will flush the primary circuit with a chemical solution.

In 2024, operators will begin transferring the already sufficiently cooled fuel elements (from previous reactor operating cycles) from the cooling pools to special storage and transport containers. The cooling pools are expected to be completely emptied of fuel in 2027.

In parallel, plant staff will gradually take all technical systems out of service. Only the systems that play a role in cooling the fuel pools or operating the other reactors will remain operational.

Once the fuel pools are completely emptied and cleaned, 99% of the total radioactivity will have been removed from Tihange 2's facilities. At that point, Electrabel can proceed with the complete dismantling of the plant. According to current schedule, the first decommissioning activities will start in 2026.

"The final stop of Tihange 2 marks an important milestone in the history of our site," said Antoine Assice, director of Tihange plant. "My thanks go to all the employees who were involved in the construction and operation of the plant. Thanks to them, we can now look back with pride on 40 years of safe electricity production. With the same care, our employees have also been preparing for the dismantling of Tihange 2 for several years."

Belgium's nuclear plants account for almost half of the country's electricity production. The country's federal law of 31 January 2003 requires the phase-out of all nuclear electricity generation in the country. Under the current arrangement, most of Belgium's nuclear generation capacity will be phased out by 2025.

Under a plan announced by Belgium's coalition government in December 2021, Doel 3 was shut down in September last year and Tihange 2 would be shut down in 2023. The newer Doel 4 and Tihange 3 would be shut down by 2025, together with Doel units 1 and 2, which had their operating licences extended in 2014.

The government asked Engie in July last year to see if it can extend the operating life of Tihange 2 until the end of March - the end of the winter peak electricity season - but the company said it was not possible to do so at such short notice.

On 10 January, Engie and the Belgian federal government signed an agreement with a view to restarting the Doel 4 and Tihange 3 nuclear power reactors in 2026 and operating them for a further ten years.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News