* Major turbine damage forces closure till year-end
* GDF Suez confirms outage was due to sabotage
* Other reactors down, Belgian nuclear capacity halved
* Further outage set to impact GDF Suez earnings
(Adds GDF Suez quote on sabotage, detail on capacity)
By Geert De Clercq
PARIS, Aug 14 Belgian energy company Electrabel
said its Doel 4 nuclear reactor would stay offline at
least until the end of this year after major damage to its
turbine, with the cause confirmed as sabotage.
On Tuesday, Electrabel had said the plant would remain
offline until Sept. 15 as it carried out repairs and
investigated an oil leak that forced its closure on Aug. 5. Its
French parent company GDF Suez confirmed the closure
was due to sabotage.
The shutdown of Doel 4's nearly 1 gigawatt (GW) of
electricity generating capacity as well as closures of two other
reactors (Doel 3 and Tihange 2) or months because of cracks in
steel reactor casings adds up to just over 3 GW of Belgian
nuclear capacity that is offline, more than half of the total.
The latest closure will put further pressure on the earnings
of GDF Suez, which warned last month that the closure of the
first two Belgian plants would push its 2014 group net recurring
income to the lower end of its forecast range of 3.3 billion to
3.7 billion euros.
The French company said those outages would have an impact
of about 40 million euros per month on net recurring income.
Electrabel said on Thursday the Doel 4 reactor had shut
automatically on Aug. 5 following an oil leak in its steam
turbine in the non-nuclear part of the plant. The firm said the
leak had caused major damage to the turbine's high-pressure
"Based on this partial analysis, Doel 4 will certainly not
be available before Dec. 31, 2014," Electrabel said.
Once the low-pressure parts of the turbine have been opened
and examined, Electrabel will update its estimate of how long
the repair work will take.
Energy experts have raised the spectre of possible blackouts
this winter and say Belgium will have to boost interconnection
capacity with neighbouring countries to prevent power shortages.
A GDF Suez spokesman confirmed Belgian press reports about
suspicion of sabotage.
"There was an intentional manipulation," he said, adding
that somebody had tampered with the system used for emptying oil
from the Alstom-made turbine.
He said no outsiders had penetrated into the plant but
declined to say whether an employee could have purposely caused
the leak, as has been reported in some Belgian media.
He said Electrabel had filed a complaint and that the
Belgian police had started an investigation.
GDF Suez shares close 0.6 percent higher on Thursday,
slightly outperforming the broader market.
Doel 4 is the youngest of four reactors at the Doel nuclear
plant, 20 km north of Antwerp, Belgium's second-biggest city.
The country has three more reactors in Tihange, 25 km southwest
of the city of Liege.
Doel 1 and 2, which came on line in 1975, are set to close
in 2015. Tihange 1, which also started operation in 1975 and was
designed to last 30 years, got a 10-year extension till 2015.
The two closed reactors Doel 3 and Tihange 2 were connected
to the grid in 1982 and 1983. Doel 4 and Tihange 3, which came
on line in 1985, were operating normally until the closure of
Doel 4 last week.
In Britain, EDF Energy, owned by France's EDF, took
three of its nuclear reactors offline for inspection on Monday
after finding a defect in a reactor of a similar design.
The problems of the two French utilities with their reactors
abroad may serve as a warning of possible generic flaws that
could appear in EDF's ageing nuclear park at home.
With 58 reactors in 19 nuclear plants, France is the world's
most nuclear-dependent country, relying on it for nearly three
quarters of its power.
All of its plants are of the same basic Pressurised Water
Reactor design, which means that a flaw discovered in one of
EDF's reactors could force the closure of others.
French nuclear regulator ASN has repeatedly warned
policy-makers that they should make room for additional supply
in case a fault at one reactor prompted the precautionary
closure of more than a dozen reactors.
(Additional reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Andrew Callus
and Jane Baird)