Netherlands needs nuclear, says minister

02 September 2008

The Netherlands needs its own energy resources - including nuclear - to enable it to end its dependency on external suppliers, according to foreign affairs minister Maxime Verhagen.


Borssele (EPZ) 
Borssele, the Netherlands' only nuclear
power plant (Image: EPZ)
Verhagen's comments were made during an address to the University of Leiden, where he studied history in the 1980s, at the start of the new academic year. The minister delivered his speech, Changing world, solid values: foreign policy in the 21st century, by a video link, as he had been required to attend a European Council summit on the current crisis surrounding Georgia and South Ossetia.


Over recent years, Verhagen explained, the Netherlands has "quite deliberately" built a broad relationship with Russia, including "deepened and broadened" energy cooperation, based on mutual dependence and interests. A stable relationship, he noted, is mutually beneficial: Russian gas supplier Gazprom realises a third of its profits from Europe. But recent events had shown that Russian values could be quite different from those of its European neighbours. The Netherlands, warned Verhagen, could not declare Russian policies "unacceptable" while ignoring the interdependence of the two countries. "That is precisely why should we no longer continue to oppose alternatives to our current external dependency," he said, noting that the country had its own energy resources such as wind farms in the North Sea and nuclear energy. "With regard to our own future in view of our own security, it is important that we diversify: in order to meet our climate goals but also to make ourselves less vulnerable to the leverage of others."


The Netherlands has one operating nuclear power plant, Borssele, which provides about 4% of the country's electricity. It relies heavily on gas and coal for electricity generation, but also imports some 18 TWh of electricity per year. Although Dutch plans for a nuclear energy sector were well established in the earliest days of nuclear power, the discovery of large natural gas reserves in the 1960s meant that only two nuclear power stations started up (the first, Dodewaard, was closed for economic reasons in 1997 after nearly 30 years of operation). In 1994 the Dutch parliament voted to phase out the Borssele nuclear power plant by 2003, but the closure date was subsequently put back to 2013. In 2005 the phase-out decision was abandoned, and the 485 MWe boiling water reactor is expected to operate until 2034.

"Inevitable", says MP


Independently, another Dutch member of parliament, also from the Christian Democrat Appeal (CDA) party, has this week declared nuclear power to be an inevitable choice for the Netherlands. Writing in his blog, former housing, planning and environment secretary Pieter van Geel voiced his opinion that the country cannot avoid using nuclear power over the coming decades if it is to avoid dependence on Russian gas imports.


While admitting that no new nuclear plant could be built under the present coalition government, van Geel pointed out that nuclear new build would be permissible under Dutch law. "The initiative for this lies not with the government, but the business community," he said, adding that were a company to submit an application to build a nuclear power plant, approval would ultimately be granted providing all statutory requirements were met.


The Netherlands' coalition government comprises the CDA, Labour Party (PvdA), and Christian Union (CU), and is scheduled to be in office until 2011. Earlier this year the government's main advisory body on national and international social and economic policy, the Social and Economic Council (SER), said that the government should consider expanding nuclear energy in when it is due to evaluate its climate policies in 2010.


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