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Belgium / As Tihange-2 Approaches Closure, Industry Group Calls For Repeal Of 2003 Nuclear Exit Law

By David Dalton
30 January 2023

‘No technical arguments’ for shutting down nuclear plants after 40 years
As Tihange-2 Approaches Closure, Industry Group Calls For Repeal Of 2003 Nuclear Exit Law
Unit 2 at the Tihange nuclear power station in Belgium is scheduled for permanent shutdown this week. Courtesy Electrabel.
Belgium should repeal its 2003 nuclear exit law as it looks for ways to deal with the energy crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and resulting gas and electricity price increases, the Brussels-based Belgian Nuclear Forum said.

The underlying argument of the 2003 law is that a nuclear plant is obsolete after 40 years and should be decommissioned, the forum said.

“Nothing could be further from the truth: there are no technical arguments for definitively shutting down a nuclear power plant after 40 years of operation, but only political arguments,” it added.

The forum issued the statement as owner and operater Engie Electrabel prepares to permanently shut down the Tinhange-2 nuclear power plant on 31 January. The 1,008-MW pressurised water reactor unt began commercial operation on 1 June 1983 and has been online for 40 years.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the last couple of decades have witnessed increased interest in the extension of the operating life of nuclear power plants. Extending the life of a plant is more economical than building a new one, and where it makes business sense. The agency says about 90% of US plants have already renewed their licences to extend their operation to 60 years, with additional extensions for a total of 80 years being considered. In Europe, plants are regularly seeking lifetimes of 60 years.

The forum said Belgium’s nuclear facilities are inspected and maintained during each refuelling outage every 12 to 18 months. They also undergo an in-depth safety assessment every 10 years. “In this process, hundreds of millions of euros are invested to keep our nuclear installations at the highest possible level of safety.”

Nuclear Plants ‘Among Most Robust In World’

In terms of safety design, Belgian nuclear facilities are among the most robust in the world, the forum said.

Other countries were also phasing out or reducing nuclear power, but most of them – France, the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden – have since reconsidered their decisions. Even Germany, which has said it will stick to its phaseout plans, has decided to keep its three remaining nuclear plants in operation until April.

The Doel-3 nuclear plant was permanently disconnected from the network in September 2022, bringing the number of commercial units in operation in the country to six. When Tihange-2 is taken offline next week, five plants will be available.

“These decisions are the result of the 2003 law relating to the exit from nuclear power, when there was no energy crisis,” the forum said. “Wouldn’t it be a responsible (and necessary) policy to repeal the 2003 nuclear exit law?”

Earlier this month, Belgium agreed with French utility Engie to extend the life of the Doel-4 and Tihange-3 plants.

Both plants were due to close for good in 2025, but will now restart in November 2026 after necessary work and will continue operating for 10 years.

The Brussels-based trade association nucleareurope welcomed the agreement, but warned that that prolonging just two reactors for just 10 years – and not 20 – will not be enough to ensure a stable supply of low-carbon electricity at an affordable cost.

Belgium had planned to exit nuclear power entirely in 2025, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forced the government to rethink plans to rely more on natural gas.

Unit 3 at the Doel nuclear station was permanently disconnected from the network in September 2022.

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