Belgium's Parliament is debating legislation put forward by the energy minister which proposes extending the lifetime of the nuclear power reactors Doel 1 and 2 for 10 more years.
According to the phase-out policy agreed upon by earlier governments, the Doel 1 reactor should have been permanently shut down on February 15 of this year (it was shut down in February, but may be restarted). Doel 2 was supposed to close no later than 1 December 2015.
The Council of State, an advisory body to the government, warned the minister that − in order to be legally correct − a decision to extend reactor lifetimes would require a new licensing procedure including an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and a national and trans-boundary public consultation process, as prescribed by the European Directive 2011/92/EU and the Aarhus and Espoo conventions, both signed and ratified by Belgium.
So far Belgium has neglected the advice. Even the independent Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) − which is supposed to make sure the government follows proper procedures – has published a paper stating that a full EIA would be too complicated and time-consuming given the urgency for Belgium to safeguard energy supply.
The position of the government and the 'independent' FANC has provoked critical responses from a number of organisations including Greenpeace Belgium and the European watchdog organisation Nuclear Transparency Watch (NTW).
NTW warned that the proposal to extend the lifetime of the 40 years old Doel 1 and 2 reactors threatens to break international rules for transparency. If the right of the public to participate in an EIA is not respected, NTW will seek advice on initiating a formal complaint to the Compliance Committee of the Aarhus Convention.
NTW chair and member of the European Parliament Michèle Rivasi sent a letter to the energy minister stressing the importance of respecting international obligations to conduct a full-scale EIA and a cross-border public participation process in advance of any final decision.
NTW is a network founded in 2013 by an initiative of Members of the European Parliament from five different political groups. NTW promotes transparency in nuclear issues and increases the contribution of civil society in the governance of nuclear activities. WISE has been a member since late 2014.
Greenpeace Belgium is trying to prohibit lifetime extensions for the two reactors. In June 2013, the Belgian state was taken to court because of the lack of an adequate nuclear emergency preparedness and response plan (EP&R). The request was to force the Belgian state to update its EP&R plans within six months and to take into account the experiences and lessons from Fukushima. The court was also asked to force the government not to restart the Doel 3 and Tihange 2 reactors before adequate EP&R plans are operational. Doel 3 and Tihange 2 have been offline since March 2014 due to concerns about the integrity of their reactor pressure vessels.
On 19 February 2015, the hearings took place before the tribunal in Brussels and on 1 April the final verdict was published. In a disappointing ruling the judge declared himself incompetent to bring in a verdict. He stated that a ruling would go against the constitutional rule of separation of powers.
NTW press release, 30 April 2015, www.nuclear-transparency-watch.eu/category/media/press-releases
Email communications with Greenpeace Belgium.
Belgium daily paper Het Laatste Nieuws, 5 May 2015
Nuclear Transparency Watch, head of operations Marie-Alix Verhoeven, email@example.com
'Belgium and the END of nuclear power', Nuclear Monitor #800, 19 March 2015, http://www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/800/belgium-and-end-nuc...