Nuclear needed in Belgium

02 October 2009

Politically motivated shutdowns of nuclear power plants look set to be put off for at least ten years, after an official report said the country could not manage without nuclear.


Since a 2003 decision to phase out nuclear energy, the lifespans of nuclear power reactors in Belgium are limited to 40 years, with shutdown dates around 2015 pencilled in for Doel 1, Doel 2 and Tihange 1.


However the 'group of experts on the energy mix' (GEMIX), set up by government to inform its position, has said those reactors will be needed until at least 2025 - until efficiency measures and renewables might be able to stabilise supply. 


Tihange (Goya)
Tihange. Belgium's seven reactors provide more than half of electricity
(Image: Goya)

The final report has been reviewed by the Central Council of Economy and and the Federal Council for Sustainable Development. It was delivered to energy and climate minister Paul Magnette yesterday.


A 15% cut in energy consumption is recommended by 2020, with a 13% target for renewables in line with Belgium's commitments under the European Union. But GEMIX found that even if those things were achieved, the country would still need to operate the Doel 1, Doel 2 and Tihange 1 until 2025.


Magnette supports an extension: "This... would ensure security of supply in the country, avoiding substantial production of carbon dioxide and would maintain a price level that protects the purchasing power of households and the competitiveness of our businesses."


GEMIX continued that a new study in 2019 should consider a further ten-year extension to 2035. This would see the units operate until the age of 50, whereas similar reactors elsewhere are licensed to operate for up to 60 years subject to strict checks.


Even more dramatic is GEMIX's suggestion to add 20 years to the early closure dates of Doel 3, Doel 4, Tihange 2 and Tihange 3 - stretching these to the 2040s - but Magnette was not drawn to comment on that. He did say that a reprieve for the first three reactors would come at a price to nuclear operators: They would have to ensure "fair prices", make "massive investment in renewables and energy efficiency" and set up "ambitious research programs in new technologies related to energy efficiency and the environment, and the management and treatment of nuclear waste."


Last but not least came a requirement for "the removal of a significant part of the nuclear margin in favour of the state budget, through a structural mechanism." In other words, a tax to reduce the profitability of nuclear power. This would not be a new thing: In 2008 nuclear generators were made to pay 'contribution' of €250 million to state funds, against which Electrabel has lodged an appeal with the Constitutional Court.