Belgium intends to close, as planned, its seven nuclear reactors by 2025, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced on Thursday 23 December. An agreement on this particularly sensitive issue was reached at dawn between the seven partner parties of the government coalition, after a night of negotiations.
The gradual phase-out of nuclear power has been enshrined in law since 2003, but successive governments have been slow to develop the capacity to compensate for the shutdown of the seven reactors, with a cumulative power of 6 gigawatts (GW). The latest deadline for a complete shutdown of these old plants is 2025, a date that the current government, which took office in October 2020, has committed to respect.
Decision under conditions
Despite the opposition of the French-speaking liberals of the MR, one of the seven coalition parties, the shutdown of the seven reactors by 2025 has been confirmed under certain conditions.
The government wants to guarantee “Security of supply” energy of the country and “Price control”, reaffirmed Alexander De Croo during a press conference. Nuclear power accounts for around 40% of the electricity produced in Belgium. “We have planned several evaluation moments to check that we are on the right track”, added the Flemish liberal leader.
He notably mentioned a meeting in mid-March to verify that an alternative solution is indeed possible if the permit to build a new gas plant near Brussels has still not been granted. This power station, planned for the Flemish municipality of Vilvoorde, is a key installation in the government’s system for ensuring security of supply.
But, at the beginning of November, the Minister of the Environment of the Flemish region refused the permit to the French group Engie, the operator chosen at the end of an auction system developed at the federal level. According to a government source, it is considered as an alternative to opt for an installation not selected during the auction, since it would already have a permit.
One hundred million euros for new generation nuclear power
The government agreement does not, however, close the door to new generation nuclear power. It provides for an investment of around 100 million euros in research on new generation nuclear power, namely small modular reactors (SMR), presented as “Safer”.
“It is with an open look towards innovation and new technologies that we envision the energy future”, pleaded Mr. De Croo, recalling the objective of carbon neutrality by 2050, to which renewable energies (solar, offshore wind) must also contribute.
For his part, the leader of the Francophone Liberals, Georges-Louis Bouchez, did not lay down his arms. He went so far as to assert that “The exit from nuclear power has not been decided”, referring to the three-month period that the government reserves for safety. Maintaining certain abilities can still be activated “As a safety net”, he said, stressing that the Belgian nuclear safety authority (AFCN) would also have a say in early 2022.