As long as there are nuclear activities in Belgium and along our borders, it is essential to have a nuclear regulator with sufficient expertise.
On March 11, 2011 – exactly 10 years ago – a nuclear disaster took place in Fukushima. A little less than 25 years after the tragedy of Chernobyl, the world was again faced with a disaster at a nuclear power plant.
Tragedies like this mark us deeply and remain engraved in our collective memory: the incredulity that such a catastrophe could still happen again and especially the realization that nuclear technologies continue to present risks. Hence the importance of taking the necessary measures at all times to minimize these risks.
When you are a student or researcher in nuclear physics, you focus on the benefits that this science can bring to humanity through better technologies, more effective medical treatments and how we can best protect humans and the environment from the potentially harmful effects of ionizing radiation and radioactivity.
Fukushima demonstrates that we can never lose sight of the flip side of nuclear applications and that we must learn from them.
As head of the Belgian Nuclear Safety Authority, my role is to consider nuclear safety from a broader perspective. Fukushima demonstrates that we can never lose sight of the flip side of nuclear applications and that we must learn from them. This was the case for Belgian and European nuclear power plants. After Fukushima, the power plants were subjected to stress tests and in the meantime necessary additional security measures have been imposed and implemented. Belgian nuclear power plants currently meet all international safety requirements.
Lessons from the past
After the end of Belgian nuclear power, we will have to continue to remember the lessons learned from the past. Permanent control and strict monitoring the safety of nuclear installations remain essential. Safety and security requirements not only have to be respected, but they also have to be regularly adapted to the latest international recommendations.
This applies not only to all the major Belgian nuclear sites, but also to medical and industrial establishments who work with radioactive materials in our country. After all, we cannot forget that besides the production of electricity, there are many other applications that use ionizing radiation, especially in the medical sector.
These applications are evolving at an increasing rate and offer the prospect of better control and management of many diseases. Nuclear power plants will also have to be dismantled. The radiological risk will be considerably reduced after the shutdown of the power reactors, but safely evacuate and store all radioactive waste from the sites while following the radiation protection rules well promises to be a crucial challenge, especially for the workers involved.
An exit from Belgian nuclear power does not mean that there is no risk of a nuclear accident either.
An exit from Belgian nuclear power does not mean that there is no risk of a nuclear accident either. The impact of a nuclear disaster does not stop at the geographic border. Although nuclear safety is a national competence, we cannot afford, as the nuclear regulator of a country as densely populated as Belgium, to ignore the safety of nuclear installations in neighboring countries as well as the many new technologies developed around the world. That is why maintaining our national “Telerad” measurement network is essential.
In addition to these preventive measures, we must also continue to invest in nuclear and radiological emergency planning. The best contingency plan is one that should never be activated. But if ever an accident should occur in a nuclear installation in Europe, Belgium must be ready and have the necessary expertise in order to be able to take the appropriate protective measures.
As long as there are nuclear activities in Belgium and along our borders, it is essential to have a nuclear regulator with sufficient expertise. Today, but also in the future, we wish to continue fulfilling our role as Nuclear Safety Authority. We want to continue doing what we have been trying to do for twenty years: protect people, workers and the environment. To continue fulfilling this role, we must ensure that our expertise is retained, also after the nuclear phase-out.
Director-General of the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control