Belgium’s seven-party coalition government this morning announced via press conference a tentative agreement to close the nation’s two nuclear power plants by 2025, confirming a commitment made in October of last year when it took office. Plant closures are scheduled to begin in 2022.
A final decision is expected next March, as the government now plans to examine whether Belgium’s energy security can be maintained without its nuclear plants. The current agreement calls for building two gas-fired plants to compensate for the loss of electricity generation from nuclear.
The announcement was not all bad news for the nuclear sector, however. Reportedly due to the influence of the French-speaking liberal MR party, Belgium will invest €100 million (about $113 million) over four years into research on nuclear power technology, with a focus on small modular reactors.
Background: Belgium’s nuclear fleet consists of seven pressurized water reactors—four units at Doel and three at Tihange. In 2003, legislation was passed limiting the operational lives of those reactors to 40 years and prohibiting new reactor construction. While the government later agreed to prolong the lives of the three oldest units (Doel-1 and -2 and Tihange-1, all of which began commercial operation in 1975), the 2025 phaseout date was reaffirmed in September 2020.
Lost in the mail? In August, a pronuclear think tank in Belgium wrote a letter to Belgium’s prime minister, Alexander De Croo, urging him to reevaluate the nuclear phase out plan.
The letter, by Horizon 238, a group composed mostly of young engineers, stated in part, “The government’s decision to phase out nuclear energy—the first source of low-carbon energy in Belgium—and to finance new fossil gas power plants through the capacity remuneration mechanism is therefore paradoxical and counterproductive. This decision would only reinforce the predominance of fossil fuels in the Belgian energy landscape. The belief that nuclear power plants need to be shut down for renewable energy to be developed is simply a false dilemma. Other countries such as Finland, the United Kingdom, and Canada have chosen to build their energy transition on these two low-carbon energy sources.”