Ministers Dermagne, Dermine and Van der Straeten gathered Belgian industrial players around the table to organize the end of life of nuclear reactors. Objective: to anchor dismantling activities in Belgium.
What if the Belgian nuclear power plant dismantling industry was born? On the eve of the shutdown of at least 5 of the country’s 7 nuclear reactors (scheduled between 2022 and 2025), the has decided to take the lead in the face of the titanic project to come. Also, at the initiative of Deputy Prime Minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne (PS), Minister of Energy Tinne Van der Straeten (Groen) and Secretary of State for Relaunch Thomas Dermine (PS), a industrial “round table” was organized to create “a structuring activity” around the dismantling of nuclear power plants.
“The mission of this round table is to preserve employment in the sector, to anchor activities in Belgium and to develop Belgian knowledge so as to be able to exporters afterwards.”
By bringing together in this way, and on multiple occasions, the main specialists in the sector, the three firms do not ensure that the country takes full ownership of the work to come. Together, the three ministers hope to have provided the spark that will lead to the creation of a real industrial dismantling sector made in Belgium.. “The mission of this round table is to preserve employment in the sector, to anchor the activities of dismantling power plants in Belgium, to develop Belgian knowledge in specific dismantling techniques so that they can then export them”, indicates the firm Dermagne.
The sector has responded. Following the creation of the round table last May, four working groups have been formed, bringing together industrial experts around the main dismantling sectors. In this case, “metals”, “characterization”, “primary circuit” and “logistics and storage” were identified by the companies invited as branches to develop the new industry.
To orchestrate everything, the government called on the Center for Nuclear Studies, SCK.CEN, who played the role of technical secretariat during the discussions. In addition, 13 companies took part in the various working groups, distributed according to their skills. It includes, among others, the engineering group John Cockerill, IRE, Agoria, IBA, Wanty, AKKA, Netalux and Sarens.
“The working groups met 3 to 4 times a month and a real dynamic took hold. Land has been identified for the construction of a metal furnace as well as for the recycling of materials.“, explains the firm Dermine. The work of the various groups recently resulted in a detailed report, analyzing the multiple aspects of the creation of an industry and suggesting a more concrete action plan.
Towards an industrial consortium?
As a reminder, dismantling remains the responsibility of the plant operator, the French energy company Engie. However, as the latter has started a large program to sell its service activities, recourse to numerous specialized subcontractors will be inevitable. Here, the government’s initiative takes on its full meaning since the risk that Engie will resort to companies specializing in dismantling outside our borders is real. In a way, Through this meeting of actors, the government hopes to get ahead of Engie in its decision-making regarding the start of the works..
“By uniting all these companies with fine expertises, it is possible to imagine a concrete solution.”
And to reassure the energy company, we can imagine that the round table would lead to an alliance of Belgian companies formed around a strong industrial player. Here, it is John Cockerill who seems to be the most able to play this unifying role. In this way, Engie would have the possibility of dealing with a local partner, all in one and a priori 100% Belgian. “In Belgium, we don’t have a firm capable of doing everything. But by uniting all these companies with fine expertise, it is possible to imagine a concrete solution”, comments Vincent Massaut, deputy director of SCK.CEN. For Jean-Luc Maurange, CEO of John Cockerill, it is still “premature” to talk about the creation of a possible consortium, but it is clear that the company will have a central role to play.
SCK.CEN, for its part, will remain a technical partner of choice. “We hope to keep our role of technical consultant during the industrial realization. This will give credibility to the proposed offer“, underlines Vincent Massaut. Indeed, the center was the operator of the first dismantling of a nuclear reactor in Europe – that of the research reactor BR3 – and remains a reference in the matter.
Investment and employment
To see the light of day, this dismantling sector will require substantial investments. According to our information, the construction of dedicated hangars near the Doel and Tihange power plants as well as that of a metal furnace should cost at least 20 million euros.. “This is what to start the sector. But it will take much more investment afterwards, especially in resources, equipment and training”, points out Jean-Luc Maurange.
“It will take a lot more investment afterwards, especially in resources, equipment and training.”
Here, the state could volunteer to support private capital through the SFPI or other regional bodies. In passing, it should be remembered that Engie has already set aside some 13.8 billion euros to finance the dismantling of its plants as well as the management of the fuel used.
Then, the creation of an industry involves the creation of jobs. Still difficult to quantify, this additional offer should partly compensate for the elimination of jobs induced by the exit of the atom. However, convincing the youngest to get into the Belgian nuclear industry remains a challenge, even if the dismantling project should, at least, extend over 40 years.
Acceptance and environmental impact
However, a shadow hangs over the concrete implementation of the industrial sector. Indeed, according to the parties concerned, all stakeholders have not yet been included in the reflection process. And, even if potential sites have already been identified, it will be necessary to deal with local populations and environmental fears. At the risk of seeing the delays, for the moment unknown, lengthen.
- At the initiative of ministers Dermagne, Dermine and Van der Straeten, industrial players meet with the federal government to structure the dismantling of nuclear power plants.
- The main objective is to create an industrial dismantling sector around Belgian companies.
- Ultimately, the government hopes to be able to exporter of this know-how and make Belgium a pioneer in the dismantling industry.