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A new Dutch reactor near current Borssele NPP?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Laka Foundation

While the Germans have returned to their former decision to phase out nuclear power in the 2020s, the Dutch government wants to extend its nuclear capacity. Currently, the Netherlands has one operating nuclear power plant in Borssele (512 MWe), located in the Southwest of the country. A second one, located in Dodewaard (58 MWe), was closed in 1997.

Even before the construction of the Borssele nuclear power plant, which generated its first electricity in 1973, there were plans to build another nuclear power plant in Borssele. Finally, in 1977, the regional government declared itself openly against more nuclear power stations. In the mid 1980s the Dutch government again proposed to build more nuclear power capacity, among which in Borssele. Because of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, in April 1986, the public opinion against nuclear power was stronger than ever, and the plans were put on hold.

In the course of the first decade of the new millennium, public opinion turned in favor of nuclear power. More and more people became susceptible to arguments of the nuclear industry that nuclear power reactors do not produce any carbon dioxide and have to be considered as the best alternative for power stations that are fueled by fossil fuels, like hard coal and gas.

The current Borssele nuclear power plant is owned by the electricity utility EPZ, a joint-venture of the utility companies Delta (50%) and Essent (50%). In 2009, Essent was bought by the German energy giant RWE. The statutes of EPZ, however, prescribes that the nuclear power station has to be owned by public bodies. Delta is owned by provinces and municipalities as well as Essent was. The sale of Borssele to RWE, a company quoted on the stock exchange, is therefore inconsistent with the statutes. The court ruled that the Essent part of EPZ could not be included in the sale to RWE. In order to change the statutes Essent needed the cooperation of Delta. This utility however refused to do so and was supported by their stakeholders and the then minister of Economic Affairs.

Meanwhile, in July 2009 Delta had launched the application process to obtain a license for the construction of a second Borssele nuclear power plant with a first memorandum that has to lead to a framework of guidelines for an Environmental Impact Assessment. Though the social-democrats in the then center-left government blocked the building of new nuclear power plants, Delta was looking forward to a right-wing government that should back the plan of a new nuclear power plant. The utility hopes to submit a license request to the current (pro-nuclear) government by the end of 2011. If everything is settled successfully (in Delta's point of view), the request for a construction permit can be submitted in 2012, after which the construction can start in 2013. Cost are estimated on €4 to 5bn and the construction has to be completed in 2018.

The EPZ-part of Essent, which could not be sold to RWE, was transformed by its shareholders (six provinces and municipalities) to the Energy Resources Holding (ERH).

In September 2010, to everybody's surprise, ERH started the formal procedure to obtain a license for the construction of yet another nuclear reactor at Borssele. ERH plans to submit an Environmental Impact Assessment in 2012, and hopes to obtain all necessary licenses in 2014. Construction then can start in 2015 with first power in 2019. Formally RWE is not involved, but practically the shareholders of ERH have regular talks with RWE to determine the strategy in their struggle with Delta.

Early November 2010, Delta entered into an agreement with the French utility EDF to carry out a joint investigation into the feasibility of a new Borssele reactor. The current right-wing minority government, supported by an extreme right-wing party, welcomes the plan for a new nuclear power station. In the months after the announcement another French utility, GDF Suez, and the Swedish Vattenfall offered to take part in the project.

In January 2011, after many months of struggle and unremitting suspense, the Raad van State, the highest court, in the Netherlands, decided RWE could not buy the Essent part of EPZ. In May however,  Delta and RWE reached an agreement on RWE buying a 30% share (instead of 50%) of the Borssele nuclear power plant, leaving the majority of shares in public hands. In fact, this means that ERH will be dissolved later this year when the agreement is finalized: the largest part is sold to RWE and the remainder to Delta.

An interesting question is what will happen with the ERH application for a new nuclear power plant; will RWE continue the application?

A spokeswoman of Delta mentioned to the May 18 edition of the Dutch Het Financieele Dagblad newspaper and the German Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) that RWE will have a 20% share in Delta's new Borssele nuclear power plant. This message was spread by other Dutch and German media. However, in a reaction on Tuesday June 14, spokesman Couwenberg of Delta told WISE Nuclear Monitor that talks with RWE are ongoing: nothing is sure and previous statements were premature.

Meanwhile, Italy has joined Germany and Switzerland in turning its back on nuclear power, after a recent public referendum. It is still unclear what the consequences will be for the rest of nuclear Europe, among which the Netherlands. 

What is certain, is that antinuclear opposition is growing again. In the Borssele region, a newly established coalition of local political parties, ngo's and individuals is working hard and gaining ground. Public opinion in the area is swifting slowly towards a more critical view on nuclear power.

Additionally, another coalition was recently formed on a national level by a large number of environmental organizations and all left wing political parties who joined forces for a demonstration on April 16, 2011. About 10.000 people came to demonstrate in Amsterdam, making it the largest antinuclear protest in the Netherlands since the early 1980's. This coalition (with a consensus: 'no new nuclear power plants') did not dissolve itself after the protest but is institutionalizing itself and will become a force to reckon with.

A new reactor in the Netherlands is not a done deal anymore, although it seemed like that for a long time...

Sources: Financieele Dagblad, 18 May 2011; WDR, 17 May 2011; NRC Handelsblad, 4 November 2010;
Contact: Laka Foundation, Ketelhuisplein 43, 1054 RD Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Email: [email protected]