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New incident at Belgium's Tihange 2 nuclear plant

The troubled nuclear reactor, close to the city of Liege, has been shut down after a motor failure. Neighboring countries, including Germany, have called for the permanent closure of the ageing plant.

"An electrical motor that turns a steam turbine in a non-nuclear part of the site broke down," Tihange spokesman Serge Dauby said Saturday, adding that the failure led to an automatic shutdown a day earlier, which he described as a "common procedure."

The reactor could be restarted on Wednesday once repairs of the motor have been completed, he said.

The controversial plant, which has been in operation since 1974, was scheduled to be closed in 2015, along with another power station at Doel. But the Belgian government decided in December to extend their lives to 2025.

Safety issues raised

Located in southeast Belgium, around 70 kilometers (43 miles) from the German border, the Tihange 2 reactor has caused safety concerns for some time after a series of problems ranging from leaks and cracks to an unsolved sabotage incident.

Tiny cracks discovered in 2012 in the reactor pressure vessels of Doel 3 and Tihange 2 caused lengthy closures. They were both restarted at the end of last year,

one having to close quickly again after a fire. Germany and Luxembourg have been pressuring Belgian officials

to reconsider the plants' futures. Last week, Dutch MPs also voted in favor of demanding the two power stations be shut.

During a visit to Doel in January, Dutch Environment Minister Melanie Schultz van Haegen said she had "serious concerns" about the ageing reactors. But last month, she admitted there was "no legal basis" to call for them to be shut down.

Pills, just in case

Belgium's official nuclear safety agency (AFCN) has insisted the two plants "respond to the strictest possible safety requirements."

But still, the Dutch and Belgian governments

have ordered iodine pills to protect people living near nuclear plants

in case of an accident. A similar precaution has been ordered for the

German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

The tablets, which help reduce radiation build-up in the thyroid, would be given to children under 18 and pregnant women living within a roughly 100-kilometer (62-mile) radius of a plant.

mm/bk (AFP, dpa)

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