Belgian government approves life extensions

19 December 2014

The Belgian government has said that two of the country's oldest nuclear power reactors - Doel units 1 and 2 - can operate for a further ten years, reversing an earlier decision that the units must shut down in 2015.

Doel plant 460 (Electrabel)
The Doel plant (Image: Electrabel)

Belgium's Council of Ministers announced in July 2012 that Doel 1 and 2 - 433 MWe pressurized water reactors (PWRs) that have been in operation since the mid-1970s - were to close in February and December 2015, respectively, after 40 years of operation.

However, yesterday the Council of Ministers from the new ruling coalition agreed that the two units - operated by GDF Suez subsidiary Electrabel - could continue operating for a further ten years to 2025.

Energy minister Marie-Christine Marghem said that it was an "unconditional prerequisite" that the Belgian nuclear regulator - the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) - also approves the licence extension for the two reactors. She noted that Belgium's planned nuclear phase-out by the end of 2025 remains in place.

A GDF Suez spokesman was cited by Les Echos as saying, "The Belgian nuclear safety agency has to agree and the law must be changed." He said that the cost of complying with standards related to the extension will cost "several hundred million euros."

Electrabel said, "To consent to this massive investment, we need a clear legal and economic framework." The company will hold discussions with the energy minister over the coming weeks, it said.

The future of the country's reactors has long been the subject of political debate. A 2003 government act limited the operating lives of Belgium's nuclear power plants to 40 years and prohibited the construction of new units, effectively meaning a nuclear phaseout beginning at Doel in 2014. In 2009 the government decided to allow the oldest plants to extend their operating lives by ten years - although demanding in return that nuclear power producers must pay an annual 'contribution' to the Belgian budget. However, Belgian elections in 2010 and a protracted process to form a new government meant the new proposals were never enshrined in law.

Of the remaining Belgian units, Doel 3 and Tihange 2 look set to close when they reach the end of their 40-year lives in 2022 and 2023, with Doel 4 and Tihange 3 along with the life-extended Tihange 1 following suit in 2025.

Belgium has a total of seven operating nuclear units totalling 5943 MWe of generating capacity, which provide around 50% of the country's domestically produced electricity.

There has been concerns that the country could face electricity shortages in the coming winter as three of its seven reactors have been offline for extended periods. While Doel 4 was returned to service today following repairs to its steam turbine, Doel 3 and Tihange 2 have remained offline since 2012 because of concerns about defects in their reactor pressure vessels.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News