Belgium has decided this Friday to extend the life of two of its seven nuclear reactors (Doel 4 and Tihange 3) for ten years, which generate half of the country’s electricity and were scheduled to close by 2025 but will continue to operate until 2035 in the face of the energy crisis. energy and price security generated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The federal government has decided to take the necessary measures to prolong the life of the two most recent nuclear reactors for ten years,” the chief executive, Alexander de Croo, announced at a press conference after a council of ministers held this Friday to address the energy future of the country. The liberal politician added that the coalition government will accelerate “at the same time the transition towards renewables, the best path – he said – towards our energy independence”.
The announcement, however, is accompanied by an investment plan of 1,160 million euros to accelerate the transition towards climate neutrality. “What we do is ensure the present and invest in the future,” said De Croo, who pointed out that the Government’s energy plan is “one of the greenest” in the EU, with investments in renewables above the community average. The goal is to quadruple offshore wind power to eight gigawatts, encourage onshore wind power through more flexible aviation and defense regulations, further incentivize the renewal and installation of solar panels through a VAT reduction, double the freight transport by rail or phase out gas and fuel oil heating.
Last December, the Belgian Government presented a plan with different options on the future of atomic energy, although it was inclined to maintain the closure of the plants in 2025, as provided for by a 2003 law, and replace them with gas plants such as transition to an increasingly renewable energy matrix. However, the Executive contemplated equipping itself in this scenario with an “emergency brake” in case energy security was compromised.
At the beginning of March, however, the persistent shortage of energy products and the uncertainty added by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine led the coalition Executive (liberals, socialists, environmentalists and Christian Democrats) to lean towards prolonging the useful life of the power plants . “The current situation is very different from when we made the decision at the end of December,” De Croo argued then, two weeks before the date of March 18 that the Government had set to make the decision on atomic energy official. The International Energy Agency (IEA) applauded the change in Belgian discourse on nuclear plants, which supply 52% of the country’s electricity, according to data from the local operator Elia from 2021.
He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.
This same Friday, the company Elexys, based in Flanders (north) and supplier of gas and electricity to companies, announced that it is ceasing its activities in Wallonia (south) due to the price crisis and the operator Fluvius denied access to the network of gas to the AECO/Energie2030 supplier as they were unable to meet their contractual obligations.
However, the position of the plant operator, who for years had warned of the need to plan the extension, of intending to execute it, remains to be seen. In this sense, De Croo expressed his confidence in being able to reach an agreement with the French group Engie. “We have always found a way to align our interests. We will come to an agreement here, too, he said.
Belgium has seven nuclear reactors spread over two plants, Tihange (southwest) and Doel (northeast), with a capacity of 2,900 and 3,000 megawatts (MW). The three Tihange reactors and the four Doel reactors were built between 1975 and 1985 and were scheduled to be closed between 2022 and 2025. The long Belgian nuclear debate has been fueled by shocks, such as the microcracks detected since 2012 in buildings attached to several of its reactors that forced part of their generation to stop for years and generated social unrest.
Final energy consumption in Belgium has remained stable over the last decade at around 465 terawatt hours per year, which is 29% more than in 1990. In 2021, only 20.9% of total gross generation of electricity came from renewable sources, especially wind and biomass.
The nuclear debate is not limited to Belgium, but extends to the whole of the European Union. Some countries, led by France, consider this source of generation without associated CO₂ emissions as an essential tool to decarbonize the economy. Others, like Germany, consider it an energy source with too many risks and problems associated with radioactivity and waste.