On July 4, the Belgian government finally took a decision about the fate of nuclear power. According to the 2003 nuclear phase-out law, all seven PWR's (4 at Doel and 3 at Tihange, with a total of 5,900 MW) should be decommissioned after 40 years of operation. In 2015, the three oldest reactors Doel-1, Doel-2 (both 433 MW) and Tihange-1 (900 MW) will reach the age of 40. The four other reactors are scheduled to be decommissioned between 2022 and 2025. Today nuclear power produces 54% of the country's electricity.
In the governmental agreement of Decem-ber 2011, the majority parties agreed to respect “in principle” the 2003 nuclear phase-out law, but the closure of the three oldest reactors in 2015 would be subject to an “equipment plan” about the security of supply. At the end of May, the state secretary for Energy, Mel-chior Wathelet, presented his equip-ment plan. The report, made by his administration, concluded that till 2017- 2018, under extreme winter conditions, temporary supply problems could occur if the three oldest reactors would be closed in 2015. Nuclear plant operator GDF-Suez/Electrabel stated clearly that they were not ready to invest in the necessary upgrades and back fittings of those old reactors if they would not get a life time extension approval for at least ten years. Finally, on July 4th, the minister council took the following decision:
- The twin units Doel-1 and Doel-2 will be closed in 2015, after 40 years of operation as stipulated in the nuclear phase-out law.
- The lifetime of Tihange-1 will be extended with 10 years, till 2025.
- The four other reactors will be closed after 40 years of operation, as stipulated in the nuclear phase-out law : Doel-3 in 2022; Tihange-2 in 2023; Tihange-3 and Doel-4 in 2025.
The minister council also decided to delete article 9 of the 2003 nuclear phase-out law, which stipulates that the lifetime of the reactors may be extended over 40 years “if the security of sup-ply is endangered”. The government argued that this will secure the nuclear phase-out calendar, so that no new lifetime extensions could be granted in the future. Furthermore the government decided to facilitate the investment
in new flexible replacement capacity, especially thermal gas plants. Because of the lifetime extension of Tihange-1, the existing gas plants become less profitable. To compensate this, the government intends to subsidize new gas plants. It remains very questionable that de European Commission will allow this governmental support for new fossil plants. Furthermore, in an attempt to cut the electricity price, the gover-nment decided to place 1,000 MW of GDF-Suez/Electrabel's cheap nuclear capacity at the disposal of the other power companies.
The anti-nuclear platform Stop Nuclear & Go Renewables, initiated by Green-peace Belgium, WWF Belgium, Bond Beter Leefmilieu Vlaanderen and Inter-Environment Wallonie, is not impressed by the governments decision, which looks like a typical Belgian compromise. By extending the lifetime of the 900 MW Tihange-1 reactor with ten years, investors in new and flexible production capacity like efficient modern gas plants or renewables, will be deterred. Why should they invest in new expensive production capacity, if they will have to compete with the cheap electricity of old reactors which have been written off already for two decades? By taking only 866 MW of nuclear capacity from Doel-1 and -2 off-line in 2015, the grid will still be dominated by nuclear base-load power, making it very difficult to integrate more renewable capacity into the grid.
Tihange-1 is a second generation PWR, build in the early 1970's. An indepen-dent review of the recent EU stress tests performed on Tihange-1 concluded:
“Both the probability and the potential consequences of a severe accident are relatively high, therefore the risk of Tihange-1 is unjustifiably high. Consi-dering all facts, we recommend to shut down Tihange-1 immediately.” (Antonia Wenish, Oda Becker: “Critical Review of the EU Stess Test Performed on Nuclear Power Plants.” Study commissioned by Greenpeace. Wien/Hannover, May 2012.) Some 840,000 peoples are living within 30 km from the Tihange NPP, including the cities of Liège and Namur. The German city of Aachen (260,000 inhabitants) is at 60 km, the Dutch city of Maastricht (120,000 inhabitants) is at 40 km.
Source and contact: Eloi Glorieux, Energy campaigner Greenpeace Belgium