Nuclear power plants and the environment
Nuclear energy does make a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, like any industrial activity, nuclear power plants affect the environment. In addition to the more typical problems experienced by all types of power plant, nuclear power is faced with a very specific problem, namely that of radioactivity and radioactive waste. We take several measures to reduce the impact of activities at Doel and Tihange on the environment.
The EMAS environmental management system: constant improvement
Our two nuclear power plants are among the 75 companies in Belgium that have registered with the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS). This means that they work with an environmental management system that aims to continuously improve their environmental performance.
With this in mind, the power plants issue an annual environmental declaration listing the various ways in which their activities have affected the environment and outlining the measures taken to guarantee safety, preserve the environment and secure the well-being of their workers.
These data are complemented by environmental results and objectives, including those dealing with the creation and management of radioactive waste and effluents. Any significant impact is covered in an action plan intended to reduce said impact.
Laure Sovet, Communication Officer Tihange: “Respect for the environment is a priority at Tihange power plant. Whether curtailing the amount of paper, water or energy we consume or reducing the noise we make, these aspects are all analysed as thoroughly as possible and corrective action is taken wherever needed. A wide variety of different projects set the pace for the site’s development, such as the planting of ‘sustainable’ plants or the building of beehives. EMAS certification is an unquestionable driving force that encourages us to initiate new actions and take decisions that respect the environment.”
One of the lowest emitters of CO2 thanks to nuclear power
67% of ENGIE Electrabel’s generation capacity does not emit any greenhouse gases. Nuclear power plants contribute significantly here.Like renewable energies, nuclear power is a source of energy that emits the least CO2. It makes a significant contribution to the fight against global warming.
59% of the electricity ENGIE Electrabel generates is CO2 neutral. This is mainly down to the Doel and Tihange nuclear power plants, which cut annual CO2 emissions by 20 million tonnes (compared to modern natural gas-fired power plants). Our generation facilities are among the most carbon-friendly in Europe.
Radioactive effluents and waste: managing a specific problem responsibly
Activities at a nuclear power plant produce radioactive effluents and waste (which contain substances that continue to emit radiation). These are categorised according to the danger they pose and are treated differently.
Despite the best available confinement and filtration technologies, it is currently impossible to retain all gaseous radioactive effluents containing iodine, noble gases, aerosols and tritium produced during the fission of uranium atoms. However, the activity levels of the discharges remain far below the permitted statutory limits. Effluents are stored in tanks to reduce their level of radioactivity. Only when they no longer pose any risk or hazard to the environment are they released into the air.
The purification and chemical processing of nuclear circuits produces radioactive liquid effluents that undergo physical-chemical treatment before being released, enabling us to reduce their radioactivity as much as reasonably possible. Similarly to gaseous effluents, the level of radioactivity of these effluents is much lower than that set by statutory limits.
Radioactive waste falls into one of 3 categories depending on its lifespan and radioactivity.
- Category A: short-lived low to intermediate level waste (e.g. work clothing, gloves, shoes, facemasks, lab waste)
- Category B: long-lived low to intermediate level waste (e.g. devices used to treat fissile matter, primary circuit filters)
- Category C: high level waste (from the reprocessing of spent fuel)
High level radioactive waste produced by spent fuel
Spent fuel is currently stored underwater in storage pools (at Tihange) or containers (at Doel) located in our power plants. In the longer term, pursuant to the authorities’ decision on the status of the spent fuel, it will be transferred either to a reprocessing plant to be recycled or to a packaging and storage centre.The Agency for Radioactive Waste and Enriched Fissile Materials (ONDRAF/NIRAS) is responsible for managing radioactive waste
Low and intermediate level radioactive waste
Our nuclear power plants constantly strive to limit the quantity of low and intermediate level radioactive waste. However, quantities depend on planned maintenance activities and projects. In 2015, the Doel and Tihange power plants produced 147 m3.
We have on-site facilities that pre-treat a lot of this waste before it is removed. Water filters, low-level radioactive resins and sludge are stabilised in concrete and special barrels, turning the waste into a compact whole with the concrete. This immobilisation technique is called ‘conditioning’. The barrels are then temporarily stored on site before being transferred to Belgoprocess. Other solid, compressible waste is compacted and removed for subsequent treatment at Belgoprocess.Read the Nuclear Forum file on radioactive waste (in French)
Did you know: in Belgium, the Agency for Radioactive Waste and Enriched Fissile Materials (ONDRAF/NIRAS) and its subsidiary Belgoprocess are responsible for managing radioactive waste. Low level and intermediate level waste accounts for 99% of all radioactive waste.