UPDATE 1-Belgium does not have to shut Engie nuclear reactor, court rules

(Updates with comments from lawyer, Mayor of Maastricht, Belgian nuclear regulator)

BRUSSELS, Sept 3 (Reuters) - A Brussels court ruled on Thursday that Belgium does not have to shut down Engie’s Tihange-2 nuclear reactor after a challenge from several Dutch, German and Luxembourg cities and states citing possible safety defects.

Belgium’s nuclear regulator AFCN allowed the 1,008 megawatt reactor to restart in 2015 after it was closed for an investigation into apparent cracks. The plaintiffs said this permission should not have been granted.

“We are sure and we are convinced that the reactor vessel is safe,” Ines Venneman, a spokeswoman for the AFCN, told Reuters in an interview.

A lawyer for neighbouring cities, including Aachen and Maastricht, told Reuters the outcome of the trial was disappointing as nothing would change for the plant, which is some 45 kilometres (28 miles) from the Dutch border and 70 km from Germany.

“This is, of course, a disappointing ruling for us,” Annemarie Penn-te Strake, the mayor of Dutch town Maastricht, said in a statement. “It will not remove many people’s feelings of insecurity.”

The reactor, one of three at the Tihange plant operated by Engie’s Belgian unit Electrabel, was closed in 2012 and again in 2014 after inspections revealed tiny cracks in its core tanks.

In an unusual diplomatic move, Germany requested in 2016 that the nuclear plant be taken offline until safety concerns were addressed.

But the Belgian regulator authorised a restart in November 2015 after finding the cracks were hydrogen flakes in the walls of the reactor tank and did not compromise the plant’s safety.

The Belgian government decided in 2018 that the country’s nuclear power plants, Tihange and Doel, would be closed in 2025. Tihange-2 is scheduled to close in February 2023. (Reporting by Marine Strauss @StraussMarine, Bart Biesemans; editing by Philip Blenkinsop, Mark Potter and Barbara Lewis)