‘Safety procedures ignored’ at Petten nuclear reactor: investigation

An investigation into the safety of the nuclear reactor in Petten has revealed a catalogue of errors, leading to calls for it to be shut down, the Volkskrant said on Saturday.

Production at the reactor, which provides 30% of the base materials for medical isotopes used in nuclear medicine worldwide, was suspended between last November and February, ostensibly for reasons of maintenance, the Volkskrant writes.

In reality, the closure was prompted by a string of safety incidents, of which neither the (local) authorities nor the nuclear installations inspectorate were informed at the time, the paper said.

The new NRG management  found a number of serious safety breaches. ‘Essential safety procedures were ignored,’ the paper quotes head of operations Harrie Buurlage as saying. Inspectors finally closed the reactor down because the safety of the workforce could no longer be guaranteed.

Meltdown

One incident involved a broken gas metre which measures if and how much radioactivity is released into the environment.

Inspectors also found that a pipe for cooling water, an essential part of the reactor, had not been checked up for the last ten years. If the pipe had been defective the reactor would be ‘dry’ within 30 minutes which could result in a meltdown of the reactor core, the inspectors warned.

How this procedure could have disappeared from the safety protocol is unclear but the most likely cause is a combination of human error, miscommunication, and missing documentation, according to the inspectorate.

It wasn’t the first time serious safety breaches were found in the Petten installation. In 2002 the reactor was closed down for a month at the instigation of the International Atomic Energy Agency (AEAA) and staff were sent on safety courses.

Meanwhile economic affairs minister Kamp announced on Friday he was going to give a loan of €82m to energy research organisation ECN and its subsidiary NRG to keep the reactor open until 2023 when a new reactor will replace the present one.

Explanation

In a shocked reaction on Saturday Labour MP Jan Vos called for the immediate closure of the reactor, and a majority of MPs want minister Kamp to explain exactly what has been happening in Petten.

D66 MP Stientje van Veldhoven said she was shocked the nuclear inspectorate had not taken any decisive action in the last ten years. She also wants minister Kamp to explain why parliament wasn’t informed earlier.

Greenpeace also favours the immediate shut-down of the reactor. ‘We have been saying the reactor is unsafe for the last twenty years. You can’t afford to make mistakes where nuclear power is involved. Meanwhile it’s one incident after another,’ the paper quotes Greenpeace spokesperson Jorien Lege as saying.


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