The German affiliate of IPPNW calls on the Belgian government to immediately shut down the nuclear reactors in Doel and Tihange. They also support legal proceedings by the city of Aachen and the states of Northrhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate against the continued operation of these two nuclear facilities. Moreover, the physicians appeal to the German government to use its political leverage within the EU to press for an immediate shutdown of the nuclear reactors.
IPPNW Germany rejects plans by the EU commission to subsidize nuclear energy and calls on all European governments to follow their lead. Money should be invested instead in shifting to energy policies with the goal of achieving 100% renewable energy, in the hands of communities and citizens, and in innovation in the field of grid- and storage-technology, as well as energy efficiency and conservation measures.
The nuclear reactors in Doel and Tihange were commissioned in 1975 and were supposed to be shut down in 2015 after a service life of 40 years. Instead, they are still in operation today - despite numerous documented incidents and concrete terrorist threats. Actual scenarios do not only include failures of the reactor cooling systems caused by natural catastrophes, technical defects or human error, but also acts of sabotage, terror or cyber attacks. In 2012, thousands of cracks were found in the reactor pressure vessel of Doel’s reactor 3 and Tihange’s reactor 2. In order to prevent them from further deterioration, it has become necessary to preheat the cooling liquid to 40°C.
The dilapidated pressure vessels do not provide sufficient safety reserves so that even relatively small accidents could trigger nuclear meltdowns. A disaster like the ones in Chernobyl 30 years ago or in Fukushima 5 years ago could cause widespread radioactive contamination. Depending on the type of accident, wind direction and weather conditions, cities in Belgium, the Netherlands or Germany could have to be forcibly evacuated. The consequences for public health, the social implications for communities, which would have to accommodate millions of evacuees, and the economic damage to the states, municipalities and individual citizens are incalculable.
Former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan recently stated that it was only due to „divine intervention“ that the Japanese capital city Tokyo was spared major radioactive contamination and evacuation in 2011. According to Kan, this scenario would have effectively destroyed the Japanese economy. Tokyo is located about 200 km away from the derelict reactors in Fukushima. The border region between Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany is amongst the most densely populated and economically powerful regions in the world. The nuclear reactors pose a continuous and very real threat to approximately 3 million people living in the immediate 30 km vicinity of the two nuclear power plants as well as to more than 46 million people, who live in the region that would be exposed to radioactive fallout in the case of a nuclear meltdown. From the nuclear reactors in Tihange it is a mere 25 km to Liege, 45 km to Maastricht, 60 km to Aachen and 130 km to Cologne or Düsseldorf. The city of Antwerp is only 15 km away from Doel, 50 km from Brussels, 65 km from Rotterdam and 130 km from Amsterdam. The consequences of a nuclear meltdown and the loss of these cities could be even more disastrous than the nuclear catastrophes of Chernobyl or Fukushima.
IPPNW Germany feels bound to reiterate that in the case of a nuclear catastrophe, sensible and effective medical aid is practically impossible. In all three countries there is a lack of emergency planning, training, infrastructure and public awareness, all of which would be required for adequate emergency procedures to be enacted. As in Chernobyl or Fukushima, squabbles over authority would ensue and necessary measures, such as the rapid distribution of stable iodine, would be prevented by a lack of preparation and information. Panic would break out, evacuations would be chaotic and uncoordinated.
Aachen is the first city in the world that has begun to actively prepare its citizens for the possibility of a nuclear meltdown. In 2013, a German government simulation involving all the relevant authorities demonstrated that there were broad inadequacies in Germany’s emergency plans. The situation in Belgium and the Netherlands is not any better. As long as the nuclear plants continue to operate, there is an urgent need to intensify and expand training with evacuation scenarios, coordination of aid and rescue operations as well as consultation between national and local authorities in all three countries.
A comprehensive epidemiological study of the German Childhood Cancer Registry showed that even under normal circumstances, the operation of nuclear power plants poses a risk to public health. The rate of childhood cancer, especially leukemia, was significantly elevated in the vicinity of nuclear power plants and the risk increased even more, the closer the children lived to the plants.
IPPNW Germany warns that an immediate shutdown of nuclear power plants is the only responsible reaction to these findings and appeals to all decision makers in Northrhine-Westphalia, Germany and Europe to take decisive steps towards this end. The “Russian Roulette” that is currently being played with the lives and livelihoods of the potentially affected populations can no longer be tolerated.