European Commission clears Belgian nuclear support

20 March 2017

The European Commission has approved Belgian plans to support the long-term operation of three nuclear reactors after finding measures to compensate operators Engie-Electrabel and EDF Belgium are in line with European Union (EU) rules on state aid.

Doel (Electrabel)
Doel (Image: Electrabel)

Agreements reached by the Belgian government and the companies in 2014 and 2015 allowed the continued operation of Doel 1 and 2 and Tihange 1 until 2025, in return for a commitment by Engie-Electrabel and EDF to invest €1.3 billion ($1.4 billion) in their continued operation. The companies would receive financial compensation if Belgium were to close the reactors before the end of the ten-year period, modify the levels of nuclear tax to be paid by the owners, or change other economic parameters of the agreement.

Such guarantees are seen as necessary to secure the long-term investments by the companies, but the EU stipulates that when public funds are used to support companies this must be within EU rules on state aid. The European Commission said on 17 March that it had found the plans to be in line with those rules.

The commission found that the investment guarantees provided an economic advantage to Engie-Electrabel and EDF beyond what they would have been entitled to under general Belgian law, but concluded that Belgium had demonstrated that the measures avoid undue distortions of its energy market. Engie-Electrabel will be required to sell on regulated electricity markets each year a volume equivalent to its share of the annual production from the three units. This will ensure liquidity in the Belgian electricity markets and help increase competition between electricity suppliers.

"On this basis, the Commission has approved the measures under EU state aid rules," the commission said on 17 March.

Belgian energy minister Marie Christine Marghem welcomed the Commission's decision, saying it demonstrated that the Belgian government's reasoning did not confer any "gift" to Electrabel.

Doel 1 and 2, both 433 MWe pressurised water reactors (PWRs), are owned by Engie-Electrabel, and Tihange 1, a 962 MWe PWR, by Engie-Electrabel and EDF Belgium. Doel 1 has been in operation since 1974, while Doel 2 and Tihange 1 have both been in operation since 1975. The Belgian government announced in 2012 that both units would close in 2015, but this decision was amended by the agreements signed in 2014 and 2015 to allow the units to continue in operation.

Belgium has a total of seven operating nuclear units totalling 5943 MWe of generating capacity, which provide around 50% of the country's domestically produced electricity. The country's current law calls for all of its nuclear capacity to be phased out by 2025. Doel 3 is currently expected to close in 2022, Tihange 2 in 2023, and Doel 4 and Tihange 3 in 2025.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News