Belgium’s nuclear phaseout begins

September 27, 2022, 3:03PMNuclear News
Belgium's Doel nuclear power plant. (Photo: N. Hippert/IAEA)

Unit 3 at the Doel nuclear power plant has become Belgium’s first reactor to be permanently shuttered, in keeping with that nation’s nuclear phaseout policy. The 1,006-MWe pressurized water reactor, which began commercial operation in October 1982, was removed from service last Friday at 9:31 p.m. (local time).

Belgium’s nuclear reactor fleet now consists of six operating units: Doel-1, -2, and -4 and Tihange-1, -2, and -3. Next on the retirement list is Tihange-2, scheduled to be shut down in February 2023.

Some hope for Tihange-2 had arisen briefly in July of this year when Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo, in recognition of a European energy crisis that is likely to worsen as temperatures plummet, told reporters that his government had “asked the nuclear operator to prolong the functioning of Tihange-2 until the winter peak has passed.” However, Engie Electrabel, Doel’s majority owner and operator, responded by saying life extension for the unit was not feasible, citing technical and nuclear safety reasons.

Official words: “The final shutdown of Doel-3 is an important milestone in the history of our site,” said Peter Moens, the Doel plant’s director, in an announcement from Engie Electrabel. “Our employees have carefully prepared the dismantling of Doel-3. . . . I know I can count on these colleagues to make this new phase a reality with the same dedication and professional pride as before. One thing doesn’t change, anyway: Nuclear safety will always be our first priority, until the last day.”

Unofficial words: In a Friday tweet, nuclear advocate and Radiant Energy Group founder and managing director Mark Nelson said, “Grotesque situation. Belgium losing 10 percent of its electricity supply tonight for nothing, in a generational energy crisis.”

Background: In 2003, Belgium passed legislation to phase out its nuclear reactor fleet by 2025. While the government later agreed to extend 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 remained in place.

That date was confirmed by Belgium’s current seven-party coalition government in December of last year, but by March of this year—due in large part to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the resultant energy-price hikes—the government announced a partial change of heart, stating that it would seek to extend the operational lives of Doel-4 and Tihange-3 through 2035.

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