Nuclear safety: a way of life for over 40 years
We have been operating our 7 nuclear power plants for over 40 years, during which time there have been no incidents affecting the safety of our workers, the public or the environment. Nuclear safety has always been a top priority for ENGIE Electrabel. It encompasses all technical, organisational and human action taken to ensure that our nuclear power plants do not have any negative impact on humans or the environment, such as principles governing the design and construction of the power plants, staff training and conduct, and frequent checks.
Nuclear safety built on several pillars
Nuclear safety is based on a number of fundamental principles and very solid regulations, as well as a specific design, a strong safety culture and frequent qualitative checks. These guarantee the long-term operation of our facilities.
- The principle of redundancy
The design of our nuclear power plants takes into account the possibility that a piece of equipment may break down, hence why we have at least 2 of any piece of equipment that is vital for safety. This is the principle of redundancy; should any part of the plant break down, it will not jeopardise its safety.
- Five containment barriers
From the moment we begin to design and build our facilities, everything is done to ensure that no significant quantities of the radioactive substances produced during the nuclear reaction come into contact with the environment. With this in mind, a series of successive containment barriers completely isolate the uranium and highly radioactive fission products to prevent the release of radioactive material.
Did you know: fuel is wrapped 5 times to prevent the release of radioactive material.
We also need to deal with the human side of nuclear activities if we want to be one of the best nuclear operators in the world. This is why developing and enhancing a culture in which a focus on safety is a natural reflex is a key part of our five-year general nuclear safety plans.
The 2,000 employees at our nuclear power plants are highly qualified and experienced. Control room operators must hold a special licence (renewed every two years) confirming that they are capable of running the power plant. These licences are awarded to operators who have attended a specific and intensive training course, extensively trained using a simulator and passed an exam in the presence of an independent control body.
Internal and external emergency plan drills are organised every year and involve all power plant staff.
Did you know: our nuclear power plants have their own training centres housing a full-scope simulator able to reproduce all aspects of the operation of a power plant.
The nuclear industry: the most monitored industry in the world
Our nuclear power plants frequently undergo extremely strict external checks at both national and international level that assess the safety levels of the facilities with an eye on continuous improvement.
- In Belgium, the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC/AFCN) and its subsidiary Bel V monitor our activities continuously.
- A safety assessment is conducted in our nuclear power plants every 10 years (the ten-year overhaul). This compares the condition of the facilities and the guidelines followed during operations with the rules, standards and practices currently applied at international level.
- During OSART missions, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) coordinates and manages a team of international experts that carry out an objective audit of the operational safety at nuclear power plants. Our power plants regularly undergo OSART missions.
- The World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) organises extensive peer reviews of the nuclear facilities at the request of nuclear operators. Our power plants voluntarily open their doors to a team of experts from other power plants, who then conduct inspections according to a specific reference framework incorporating the best international practices.
- Following the Fukushima disaster in March 2011, all European nuclear power plants are obliged to undergo stress tests (BEST). These tests have shown that our Belgian facilities are among the most resistant in Europe and are strong enough to deal with extreme situations.
The International Nuclear Event Scale: a tool for communication
The accidents at Three Miles Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986) highlighted the difficulties managers in the nuclear sector face when communicating with the media and general public. There was a need for a scale of reference that could be used in the event of a nuclear incident or accident, and so the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) was born.
The INES scale classifies incidents and accidents on a scale of 1 to 7. The evaluation of incidents and accidents is contingent on three criteria: the impact on the population and environment, the impact on the site, and the degradation of defence in depth. Minor events are classified as ‘below scale/level zero’.
It should be noted that the INES scale is used exclusively as a communication tool and that the number of INES incidents must not be used on its own to assess the safety of a nuclear facility.
Fukushima and Chernobyl
In 2016, respectively 30 and 5 years ago, a nuclear accident occurred at the nuclear power plants in Chernobyl (Ukraine) and Fukushima (Japan). The Belgian Nuclear Forum established files on the causes and consequences of both accidents. You can consult them here (in French): Fukushima - Tsjernobyl