EU court rules on extended operation of Doel units

29 July 2019

Units 1 and 2 of Belgium's Doel nuclear power plant can continue operating, even though a law extending their operation was adopted without the required environmental assessments or public consultation being carried out first, the European Court of Justice ruled today.

Doel units 1 and 2 (Image: Electrabel)

A law limiting the operating lives of Belgium's nuclear reactors to 40 years was passed by the country's government in 2003, but in July 2015 an amendment was passed to enable Doel 1 and 2 to operate for a further ten years provided regulatory approval was granted. This means that Doel 1 would close on 15 February 2025, and Doel 2 on 1 December 2025.

In early October 2015, the Belgian nuclear regulator, the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC), approved an action plan submitted by Electrabel in April, which outlined the actions to be taken over the next decade to ensure the continued safe operation of the two 433 MWe pressurised water reactors beyond their original 40-year design life. The plan incorporated elements related to modernisation and management of aging facilities, as well as setting out a timetable and prioritising various actions. Modernisation work under the plan will cost EUR700 million (USD778 million).

Any deviation from the action plan and schedule must be approved by the FANC, and all priority measures must be completed before the reactors can start long-term operation. Electrabel must also submit the summary report from its fourth decennial safety review before the start of the long-term operation.

Two Belgian environmental associations - Inter-Environnement Wallonie and Bond Beter Leefmilieu Vlaanderen - brought an action before Belgium's Constitutional Court for the annulment of the law, saying the operating life extension had been adopted without an environmental assessment and without public consultation. The case was referred to the European Court of Justice.

In a ruling today, the court said the major works on Doel 1 and Doel 2 "intended to modernise them and ensure compliance with up-to-date safety standards were such as to affect the physical reality of the sites concerned". It added: "Furthermore, while it is true that those works were not referred to in the Law of 28 June 2015, but in an agreement of 30 November 2015 concluded between the Belgian State and the company Electrabel, which is the owner and operator of the nuclear power stations, they were nevertheless closely connected with the measures adopted by the Belgian legislature."

The Belgian government in March 2018 reaffirmed its intention to phase out nuclear power by 2025 with the approval of a new "energy pact" which had been agreed in December 2017 by Belgium's four energy ministers, at federal, Brussels, Walloon and Flemish level. The new strategy maintains the country's plan to shut down its seven operating nuclear reactors by 2025. It also calls for investments in gas and renewables, particularly off-shore wind turbines, to replace the capacity that will be lost through the nuclear phase-out.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News