ANTWERP, Belgium, Aug. 13 (UPI) -- The chief of Belgium's nuclear power regulatory agency says he's "skeptical" the Doel-3 reactor near Antwerp can ever be re-started.
Willy De Roovere, director of the country's Federal Agency for Nuclear Control, told the Belgian public broadcaster RTBF Friday that anomalies found in the tank holding the reactor's nuclear core could be cracks, in which case the plant would face imminent decommissioning.
Asked if he thought the reactor -- closed Thursday after an inspection -- could eventually be put back into the service, De Roovere answered, "I am quite skeptical at the moment."
Electrabel's Doel-3 unit, located 15 miles north of Antwerp, was ordered shut after a scheduled ultrasound inspection of the steel reactor vessel uncovered "several anomalies."
Regulators said it will remain down until at least the end of August, with more tests being conducted in the meantime. Additional reactors in Belgium will also be tested for the problem, they said.
The agency said there was no danger to the public from the situation at the 30-year-old, 1,003-megawatt nuclear plant, which uses a tank forged in the 1970s by Rotterdam Dry Dock Company of the Netherlands.
Electrabel is a subsidiary of France's GDF Suez.
"This event has no impact whatsoever on the well-being or health of the employees, the local residents, or the surrounding area," the company said in a statement.
"Following due analysis, the authorities agreed that for the time being the incident should be classified as a level 1 occurrence on the International Nuclear Event Scale, which ranges from level 1 (anomaly) to level 7 (major accident) and is intended to promote open communication about occurrences at nuclear facilities around the world."
The Doel-3 unit was scheduled for decommissioning in 2022 as part of Belgium's decision to phase out its seven nuclear reactors of 2025. The country relies on them for about half of its power generating needs.
De Roovere said if cracks are discovered, it would be up to Electrabel to prove the tank is reusable, which, he added, would be a tall task.
"There is still a chance to prove I'm wrong," he told the Belgian broadcaster. "The operator always has the opportunity to prove the signs may not exceed a certain limit, and are acceptable."
Belgian transmission system operator Elia told the Financial Times the loss of the 1,003-megawatt power plant could lead to severe energy shortages in the country.
"The sudden closure of the plant could seriously affect energy security in the country during peak hours of the winter period ... that's around 6 p.m. on a cold winter day," Elia manager Lise Mulpas told the newspaper.
Belgian officials said they believed there are 21 nuclear reactors with the same type of vessels worldwide and will consult with the relevant regulators of those countries to give them the necessary information.
Among the nuclear power plants known to also have similar Rotterdam Dry Dock reactor vessels are four in Virginia operated by Dominion Resources, Platt's business news service reported.
Company spokesman Richard Zuercher said the utility was aware of the Belgium situation but had not yet been notified by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
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