Belgian grid operator issues call to action

02 July 2019

Belgium will need more capacity than previously forecast to cope with its planned nuclear exit and is not yet ready for any scenario, a new report by Belgian grid operator Elia has found. Meanwhile, a team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has completed a review on the long-term operation of two of the country's nuclear power plants.

The SALTO team on site at Doel (Image: FANC)

Belgium is not yet ready for any scenario including one where the phase out of nuclear reactors is more gradual than currently envisaged, Elia said on 28 June, as it published its latest analysis, Adequacy and flexibility study for Belgium 2020-2030. The grid operator issued a "call to action" to ensure the country's current caretaker government and its next federal government absolutely have all the resources they need in time to avoid a "serious" capacity crisis.

"Despite the efforts of the past year, at the time of writing we are not yet ready for any scenario. It is still five minutes to midnight," Elia said.

Belgium's seven nuclear reactors generate about half of its electricity, but are all scheduled to close by the end of 2025. Even under a scenario of a partial nuclear "extension" - under which two nuclear units, Doel 4 and Tihange 3, are allowed to operate beyond 2025 - "considerable replacement capacity" would still be necessary, Elia said.

"Furthermore, there will be a need for upgrades to reactors whose operating licences are being renewed, with order times and periods of unavailability running into the winter months, which already promise to cause difficulties. This means that each scenario requires appropriate measures and there must be clarity soon about the consequences and the action to be taken. Therefore, just as important as providing replacement capacity is the need for discussions to start soon with the nuclear power plant owners," it said.

The Belgian government in March 2018 reaffirmed its intention to phase out nuclear power by 2025. Elia's latest analysis finds that the country will need around 3.9 GWe of replacement capacity to cope with its nuclear exit. This is up from the 3.6 GWe estimated by the grid operator in late 2017. Plans by neighbouring countries to bring forward their exit from coal-fired generation - which will make it harder for Belgium to import electricity when it has shortages - will mean that even more additional capacity will be needed in the period 2022-2025, it found.

Decisions by other European countries to accelerate their withdrawal from coal-fired generation mean that Belgium will need some 1GWe of additional capacity in the period 2022-2025.

"Since the publication of the previous adequacy and flexibility study in 2016, announcements of early and additional shutdowns mean a capacity reduction of 26GW," Elia said. "The accelerated coal exit in neighbouring countries (the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Italy, France and especially Germany) will have an adverse impact on our ability to import electricity in the winter months."

Additional measures will be required as of winter 2022-2023 to maintain security of supply, as the current strategy reserves mechanism has only been approved until winter 2021-2022, Elia said. The general capacity remuneration mechanism (CRM) with which the government plans to support the market will only be introduced in 2025, meaning that additional measures will be needed in the meantime to bridge the period 2022-2025, the grid operator said.

Doel reviewed for long-term operation

An IAEA team has completed a SALTO (Safety Aspects of Long Term Operation) follow-up review mission at Engie Electrabel's Doel units 1 and 2 at the request of the Belgian nuclear regulator, the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC). FANC approved a 10-year extension of the units’ operating licence in December 2015, provided that a set of safety conditions is fulfilled every year.

During the latest mission, which took place from 25 to 28 June, the seven-member SALTO team reviewed Doel's response to recommendations and suggestions made during an initial SALTO mission in 2017. It said the plant management had: improved organisational arrangements to support aging management for the period of long-term operation (LTO); updated the safety analysis report with aging management and LTO assessment results; and enhanced competence and knowledge management for plant personnel involved in aging management.

Further work is needed to ensure that all required structures and components are included in the scope of aging management during the LTO period and to complete implementation of the aging management programmes for civil structures and components, the SALTO team found.

The plant's management and FANC will have an opportunity to make factual comments on a draft report submitted by the SALTO team at the end of the mission. A final report will be submitted to the plant management, FANC and the Belgian government within three months.

Doel 1 and 2 are 433 MWe pressurised water reactors that have been in commercial operation since 1975. Doel 1 is scheduled to close in January 2025 and unit 2 in December the same year.

The IAEA-led SALTO peer review is a comprehensive safety review addressing strategy and key elements for the safe long-term operation of nuclear power plants. SALTO missions complement Operational Safety Review Team (OSART) missions, which review programmes and activities essential to operational safety.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News