About - Publications - Blog

Fukushima or Chernobyl evacuation zone for the nuclear power plant of Doel (Belgium)

What if a nuclear incident, the size of Fukushima or Chernobyl, happens at the nuclear power plant of Doel (Belgium)?

Only a limited number of people died initially at the incidents in Fukushima and Chernobyl. However, the released radiation causes cancer in a part of the population. It is estimated [1] that the incident at Chernobyl is responsible for 50000 additional cancers, half of which were fatal.

The released radioactivity infected the region around the nuclear plant and made it uninhabitable. As well in Chernobyl as in Fukushima, a region of about 30 km radius was evacuated (In Chernobyl, the region is far from a perfect circle, which makes sense because the wind does not distribute the radioactive particles equally in all directions. However, a circle with 30 km radius is a good approximation).

A total of 300 000 people around Chernobyl and 500 000 people around Fukushima had to find a new home. The forced evacuations lead to a lot of emotional distress, mental health problems, financial losses and a total disruption of the region. The cost of the cleanup and evacuations ran into many billions. These costs are unpayable by the electricity companies and are therefore borne by the government.

If a similar incident occurs in one of the four nuclear reactors in Doel (and there is no reason to assume that this is impossible), it is logical to assume that also an area of about 30 km around the plant will have to be evacuated (even though the current emergency plans anticipate an evacation zone of 10 km radius for some reason). The map below gives an indication of the area with a radius of 30 km.

Figure: the 30-km zone around the nuclear plant in Doel.

All inhabitants of Antwerpen, Sint-Niklaas, and Lokeren would have to move, as well as the inhabitants of Aartselaar, Beveren, Boechout, Boom, Bornem, Borsbeek, Brasschaat, Brecht, Edegem, Essen, Hamme, Hemiksem, Hove, Kalmthout, Kapellen, Kontich, Kruibeke, Lint, Moerbeke, Mortsel, Niel, Puurs, Ranst, Rumst, Schelle, Schilde, Schoten, Sint-Amands, Sint-Gillis-Waas, Stabroek, Stekene, Temse, Waasmunster, Willebroek, Wijnegem, Wommelgem, Wuustwezel and Zwijndrecht.

Also a part of The Netherlands is affected, among others Hulst, Bergen op Zoom, Roosendaal and Terneuzen.

The population density around Doel is much higher than around Chernobyl or Fukushima. A total of 1.5 million people would have to move. These people will have to be relocated, probably in the rest of the already densely populated Flanders and the south of The Netherlands (As comparison: Flanders has about 6 million inhabitants, including the area around Doel).

The logistical and financial obstacles are immense. Moreover, the entire Port of Antwerp, one of the largest ports in the world, and all nearby businesses, may have to shut down completely for many decades. The economic damage would be enormous, not only for Belgium, but for the whole of Europe. Given this risk, one can ask whether or not it was a good idea to build four nuclear reactors near one of the largest ports of the world, in a very populated area.

The situation in Tihange (where the other nuclear plant of Belgium (3 reactors) is situated) is "a litte" better: 850 000 people live in the 30 km - zone. The towns of Namur and Liège, among others, will be affected.

Figure: The nuclear power plants in and near Belgium with their 30 - km zone (from north to south: Borssele, Doel, Gravelines, Tihange, Chooz and Cattenom).

Finally, the figure above gives an overview of the nuclear power plants in Belgium (Doel and Tihange), as well as the nuclear power plants near the borders (Gravelines, Chooz and Cattenom in France, Borssele in The Netherlands). The 30- km zones are indicated. This does not mean that areas outside these zones are safe. More serious nuclear disasters as Fukushima or Chernobyl can infect larger areas.

[1] It seems difficult to estimate the number of deaths. A lot of studies contradict each other. The number of 25000 deaths is from here.