Nuclear risk awareness campaign
On Monday 22 January 2024, the federal government will launch a nuclear risk awareness campaign.
As an organisation, we are certainly pleased to do our bit, so we asked our colleague Christophe Bruggeman, Deputy Director-General of SCK CEN and a resident of Mol, to explain the risks and safety measures.
The federal government is obliged to conduct a nuclear risk awareness campaign at least every five years. This campaign reiterates the importance of having iodine tablets available in your home.
By taking iodine tablets, you will saturate your thyroid. In the event of an incident, it therefore cannot absorb any radioactive iodine that is released. Of course, you should only take an iodine tablet in the event of a nuclear incident and when recommended to do so by the government.
No sense of worry at SCK CEN
“The likelihood that a nuclear accident will occur is extremely low, but never non-existent," said Christophe. "I understand the anxiety, of course. We have all seen the gigantic impact of nuclear disasters such as Chernobyl and Fukushima. The reactors here in Belgium, by the way, are all of a different, safer type than the reactors I just mentioned and they also include additional protection against contingencies.”
“As a scientist and Deputy Director-General at SCK CEN, I can see at close quarters what potential risks are, but more importantly what safety measures have been put in place to prevent them. And that reassures me in every way. I moved to Mol in 2014. My kids go to school here and I can bike to work.”
“In all the years I have been working at SCK CEN, there has not been one serious accident. I have never worried about our impact on our surroundings. All nuclear activities are strictly controlled by the FANC, the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control. They are our independent watchdog. They monitor everything we do, perform regular inspections, receive our measurement results and so on.”
Full information about their inspections and about incidents can be found on their website.
Reassuring safety measures
Safety and security are a priority for SCK CEN. A battalion of safety systems, measurements and procedures protect colleagues and installations every day against all possible scenarios (such as natural disasters and cyberattacks).
"Look, for example, at our largest facility: BR2 (Belgian Reactor 2). Compared to nuclear power plants worldwide, it is a small reactor, but it is actually one of the most powerful research reactors in the world.”
"In addition to a safe design, BR2 is packed with detectors to take measurements. Those detectors monitor literally everything: cooling flow, pressure, temperature... You won't find equipment or installations anywhere else with more safety measures than nuclear reactors. The nuclear sector is the most controlled and most secure sector in the world. That is very apparent in everything. And if the slightest irregularity occurs, that type of reactor will switch itself off.”
“Switching off means shutting down the nuclear reactions. This immediately removes the biggest risk. However, we do need to continue cooling the core for a while, so we have also provided a backup for that as well."
Research with a purpose – impact for society
In all of its research projects, SCK CEN's main objective is to make a significant difference to society as a whole. “One example of this is the work we are doing every day in the fight against cancer," explains Christophe. “For example, the BR2 reactor I just mentioned is the biggest producer of medical radioisotopes in the world. It's a difficult term to understand, but the main thing to remember is that with those radioisotopes, we can detect AND treat cancer."
"In addition, SCK CEN is also a pioneer in decommissioning and the safe handling of radioactive waste. We have an awful lot of knowledge in radioactive waste management, and how best to demolish and dismantle nuclear installations. By the way, nuclear power plants are not the only places where you can find nuclear installations; they can also be found in hospitals."
"Climate change is also an important issue for us. We are carrying out research into ‘Small Modular Reactors’. These are small reactors that can contribute towards climate-neutral energy production."