Belgium moves toward nuclear phase-out

Nov 02, 2011 12:00 AM

Belgium's political parties have committed to closing three nuclear power reactors by 2015 under certain conditions.
The country's six major parties, which are negotiating to form a new government, reached agreement that the closure of two older reactors at the Doel plant and another at Tihange would be on the agenda once the new government is formed. It was said the shutdowns would be conditional on finding enough alternative energy sources to replace 5,860 MW of power now generated by the three reactors.

The power plants, which together include seven reactors, are operated by Electrabel, a subsidiary of the French utility GdF Suez.
The Belgian government first passed a nuclear phase-out law in 2003 under which all seven reactors were to be eliminated by 2025 but that was never implemented as successive governments fell. Now, however, Belgium's political leaders have revived that plan as well.

The country has been without a federal government for 18 months and should the policy be adopted under a new one, Belgium would join Germany in renouncing nuclear power since this year's disaster at Fukushima plant in Japan.
"There is a confirmation that the plants will close, and nuclear will become a transition energy in Belgium," an unnamed government official told. "The government will set out a plan for the move to alternative power sources in the six months following its installation."

The source said the 2015 and 2025 dates would be "flexible" as the new government talks with energy companies and investors and implements plans to make the energy market more competitive.
Also on the new government's agenda would be a higher nuclear tax, which would be slapped on nuclear power producers. The proceeds would reportedly be spent on renewable energy sources in the North Sea.

The move, if completed, would contravene an agreement the government made with GdF Suez in 2009, in which the utility was to be allowed to keep the three older reactors operating until 2025. But the law was never implemented before the breakup of the government in June 2010, London energy analysts ICIS Heren said.
Electrabel released a statement in which it expressed "surprise" by the government's move. In it, the utility referred to government studies done prior to 2009 in which Belgium recommended extending the lives of the three reactors past their 40th years of service.

The company said that while it would prepare to shut down the reactors by 2015, it reserved the right "to protect its interests" contained in the 2009 agreement, the ICIS Heren analysts reported.
GdF Suez also warned last month it would challenge any "nuclear tax" increase in court and would deploy its investment dollars elsewhere should a new Belgian government move to change the regulations.

Some 55 % of the electricity consumed in Belgium comes from nuclear energy, the International Atomic Energy Agency estimates, with 90 % of all domestically generated electricity coming from the Doel and Tihange plants.
Belgium must import natural gas and oil to keep its national grid running.

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