The poll, commissioned by local media outlets Le Soir, RTL Info, Het Laatste Nieuws and VTM, found that 69% of Belgians approve the government’s decision of March 2022 to allow the two newest nuclear plants, Doel-4 and Tihange-3,to operate for 10-years beyond 2025.
According to the poll, conducted in March, 58% of respondents were in favour of extending the operating lifetime of all seven units in Belgium’s reactor fleet, two of which – Doel-3 and Tihange-2 – have already been shut down, bringing the number in operation to five.
Asked whether Belgium should invest in new nuclear generation capacities, 57% of participants responded positively.
Support Crosses All Political Parties
Le Soir said that approval for the life extension of Doel-4 and Tihange-3 came from supporters of all parties on the political spectrum, including the green ones, though to “a lesser extent”.
In January, Belgium reached an agreement with utility and nuclear operator Engie to extend the life of the Doel-4 and Tihange-3 reactors, reversing a plan to phase them out in 2025 as it looked for ways to secure reliable energy supply in the face of rising prices caused by the war in Ukraine.
Doel-4 and Tihange-3, both 1,038-MW pressurised water reactor units, are the newest in Belgium’s fleet, having started commercial operation in 1985.
There are five reactors in commercial operation in Belgium: Doel-1,-2, and -4 in the northern Antwerp province, and Tihange-1 and 3 in the eastern province of Liege. Tihange-2 was shut down in February 2023 following the shutdown of Doel-3 in September 2022.
A Belgian federal law of 2003 required the phaseout of all nuclear electricity generation in the country. The law was amended in 2013 and 2015 to provide for the three oldest reactors –Tihange-1, Doel-1 and Doel-2 – to remain operational until 2025.
The current coalition government, formed in late 2021, had confirmed plans to proceed with a phaseout of existing reactors by 2025 but kept open the option of extending the lifetime of two reactors to ensure energy supply.
Ukraine Invasion Sparks Concerns
Energy supply concerns after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 forced the government to extend the operation of Doel-4 and Tihange-3 amidst warnings from the national grid operator of power shortages beyond 2025 in the absence of nuclear.
In February, press reports said the governments was talking to Engie about potentially keeping the Doel-1, Doel-2 and Tihange-1 plants running until 2027, but there has been no progress made public to date.
In the course of 2022, several public opinion surveys in Belgium showed growing support for the continued operation of nuclear plants in the country, which provide about a half of its electricity.
The Brussel-based Belgian Nuclear Forum, which represents Belgium’s nuclear energy sector, has been calling for the repeal of the nuclear phaseout law of 2003.
“It is urgent for the nuclear industry to have a clear, ambitious and stable regulatory framework,” the Forum’s director Serge Dauby said in a statement to the media.
“This development is essential so that the necessary investments can be decided and made in due time,” he said, referring to the time and money needed for the technical preparation to be done by operators if nuclear plants are to be operated beyond 2025.
Earlier this year, the Forum said “only political arguments and no technical arguments” are behind the shutting down of reactors after 40 years of operation.