Netherlands should make up its mind

03 February 2009

The Netherlands' stance on nuclear energy needs to be clarified, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Delaying a decision on nuclear until 2011 leaves too much uncertainty.


As part of a regular review of the energy situation in member nations, the IEA commended the Netherlands on its "sound and sustainable" policies. The country has a range of environmental targets related to energy: a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a 20% share of renewables in the energy mix - both by 2020 - as well as 2% goal for year-on-year efficiency improvements. 


  The recommendations  
  come ahead of the
  government's review
  of its current climate
  policies in 2010 and
  while it is reforming 
  an anti-nuclear
  stance adopted during
  the 1980s

However, policy efforts need to be prioritised and some need to be more joined up to avoid instability during gaps between incentive programs, such as seen in the renewable sector around 2007. Netherlands leaders should also be more decisive, said the IEA, one key example topic being nuclear power. 


"It is commendable that the government is beginning to consider whether nuclear could play a larger role in the country's future energy mix," said the agency. However, "delaying a final decision until after 2011, while leaving time to build consensus, also leaves uncertainty about a technology that requires significant lead time to be planned, built and go online." 


"The government should come to a clearer position as early as possible, using the time to 2011 to create the necessary building blocks and regulatory framework to allow a timely decision to be taken." 


The recommendations come ahead of the government's review of its current climate policies in 2010 and while it is in the process of reforming an anti-nuclear stance adopted during the 1980s.  


In 1994 a parliamentary vote set 2003 as the shut-down date for the country's only reactor, at Borssele. This was later pushed back to 2013. In 2006, plant owners Delta and Essent (soon to be bought by RWE) struck a new deal with the government. They agreed to pay €250 million towards renewable development for the right to operate Borssele until 2034. The government pledged an equivalent amount - at the same time avoiding legal costs it would have faced for forcing the shutdown. 


Later in 2006, the environment minister released his Conditions for New Nuclear Power Plants, as well as a transition strategy which included the complete abandonment of previous nuclear phase out policies.  


Apart from nuclear safety requirements, the Conditions document said that before any new plant operates, and no later than 2016, the government must decide on a storage strategy for existing high-level radioactive wastes. After that, used nuclear fuel should be stored until 2025, at which time a strategy should be decided for later wastes. Power plants should be dismantled promptly after closure, and decommissioning funds clearly earmarked.

Borssele has generated around 450 MWe since 1969 using a single pressurized water reactor. Used uranium from the reactor has been reprocessed and recycled for many years and high-level waste management facilities already exist to cover the next 100 years.
Delta revealed an ambition last year to build a new large reactor at the site, while the IEA predicts the Netherlands' use of oil and coal is to expand most in the period to 2030.