Plans to shut down Belgium’s seven commercial reactor units were enshrined in a law of 2003, then confirmed in 2015 and again in 2018. A commission was appointed to assess the impact of the phaseout but it has not yet reported back.
Following a general election in May 2019 the new administration was expected to consider the decision, but political parties were unable to form a federal government for more than a year.
On 30 September, a coalition agreement was reached comprising seven political parties, including liberals, socialists and greens, spanning separate entities from Flemish and French-language communities.
In the coalition agreement, the new government has pledged to work towards the “safe shutdown” of Belgium’s nuclear power plants and the preparation for decommissioning.
According to a local source, the Belgian greens had made the 2025 nuclear phaseout a cornerstone of their negotiation efforts over the past year and going forward with the decision was the “fundamental condition” for joining the coalition.
However, the agreement has also scheduled a report, to be completed by November 2021, on the security of electricity supply and the impact on electricity prices of the nuclear exit and the planned implementation of a capacity market – the Capacity Remuneration Mechanism – introduced in April 2019. The CRM is currently being examined by the European Commission.
If the report indicates potential supply problems, the government would review plans to allow for the retention of 2 GW of nuclear generation capacity in the energy system, which could pave the way for a lifetime extension of Belgium’s newest nuclear units – Doel-4 and Tihange-3.
Belgian media reported last week that nuclear operator Engie Electrabel had sent a letter to the major parties in the new coalition saying a deadline of November 2021 for the report is not feasible if the two reactor units are to be operated beyond 2025. Engie reportedly said in the letter that a decision must be taken by the end of 2020 to allow time to prepare administratively and technically for lifetime extensions.
The Belgian Nuclear Forum welcomed the government’s ambitious targets of a 55% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, but said it “regretted” the decision to go ahead with the nuclear phaseout by 2025.
“Our nuclear plants are a valuable tool and asset in Belgium’s energy transition and they can continue to play an important role in the years to come. Many organisations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the International Energy Agency, and the European Commission have underlined the importance of nuclear energy in decarbonising our economies,” said a spokesperson for the forum.
The spokesperson said postponing a decision on the long-term operation of nuclear plants by November 2021 would create uncertainty for nuclear operators and electricity markets, and would increase the risk of problems with security of supply, translating to higher electricity bills for companies.
Belgium’s fleet of seven commercial units – three at Tihange near Liège and four at Doel near Antwerp – produced about a half of the country’s electricity in 2019.