Belgian government confirms closure plans, looks to SMRs

23 December 2021

Belgium's coalition government today said it has agreed to close its existing nuclear power plants by 2025, although it has left open the possibility to keep two units in operation beyond that if energy supplies cannot otherwise be assured. It will also continue to invest in nuclear technology research, including small modular reactors (SMRs).

Alexander De Croo speaking at the press conference

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced the decision in a press conference following overnight talks, Reuters reported.

De Croo's government in September 2020 had reaffirmed its policy to phase out nuclear power in the country by 2025. Under the plan, Doel 3 and Tihange 2 will be shut down in 2022 and 2023, respectively. The newer Doel 4 and Tihange 3 will be shut down by 2025. However, the seven-party coalition had wrestled "for months" with the topic, Reuters said, with the Greens calling for a 2003 nuclear exit law to be respected, while the liberals favoured extending the life of the two newest reactors. The government had given itself a deadline of the end of this year to settle the matter.

Belgium's nuclear plants, which are operated by French utility Engie, account for almost half of the country's electricity production. It has still not been established how Belgium will make up the shortfall from closing its reactors. Belgian transmission system operator Elia has previously said that at least 3.6 GWe of new thermal capacity would be needed by the end of 2025.

The government will now wait until 15 March to see if a permit for a new gas plant - proposed for a location north of Brussels - is granted and, if not, will look into other options. This could possibly include leaving some of the reactors to operate beyond 2025, but De Croo said that was "very unlikely".

"Engie takes note of the Belgian government's announcement concerning the nuclear power plants and recalls, as we have done on several occasions and for more than two years, that technical, legal and regulatory constraints impose an incompressible deadline that does not allow us to ensure an extension of two nuclear units for the winter of 2025," the company told World Nuclear News. The company said it would "continue to invest in renewable energies and in future innovations such as green hydrogen."

De Croo highlighted SMRs as a technology Belgium will continue to investigate for the future. It plans to invest EUR100 million (USD113 million) over four years in research into nuclear power technology, emphasising smaller modular reactors, and possibly cooperating with France and the Netherlands, Reuters said.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News