Belgium will extend the life of nuclear reactors by another decade

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The Belgian government will work to extend the life of two nuclear reactors beyond their original shutdown date of 2025 to secure supply amid record high energy prices.

The Ministry of Energy will negotiate with the operator Engie SA to extend the operation of the Doel 4 and Tihange 3 reactors for another 10 years until 2035, the federal government said in a press release. It will submit the extension bill to the Council of Ministers by the end of March and also plans to spend 1.1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) to fund its transition to climate neutrality.

“This extension should help strengthen our country’s independence from fossil fuels in a chaotic geopolitical context,” the government said.

Accelerated transition

The announcement is part of a plan by the Department of Energy that includes measures to accelerate the transition to renewable energy for the country, which imports more than 90% of its primary energy. It also marks a revision of previous plans to shut down nuclear reactors, a step also being considered in Germany, in response to a possible disruption of energy supplies following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Belgium earlier planned a phased closure of Engie’s seven nuclear power plants – which supply around half of the country’s electricity – by 2025, replacing them with a combination of new gas-fired power plants, renewable energy, battery storage and electricity imports. Engie, which is expected to submit a long-term plan for the reactors, had previously said that the timetable set by the Belgian federal government was not compatible with the legal, regulatory and operational issues of such an extension project.

The decision to extend the operational life of the Doel 4 and Tihange 3 reactors raises significant safety, regulatory and implementation constraints, especially since their operational life would be extended once the dismantling work on adjacent units has already begun, Engie said in a statement. late last night.

“Engie will contribute to this reflection and will work with the government to study the feasibility and the conditions for implementing the solutions envisaged at this stage”, he specifies.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told reporters on Friday evening that the government had always negotiated with Engie in a respectful manner and had in the past found ways to align interests between the two.

“It is clear that if we manage to extend beyond 2025, it will be a good thing,” said De Croo. “There is a lot of work to do.”

Belgium will also invest 100 million euros over the next four years to develop nuclear energy through small modular nuclear reactors, according to the plan.

Stimulate investment

As part of its transition plan, the government will stimulate investments in offshore wind, hydrogen and solar energy as well as cooperate with neighboring countries, while aiming to make Belgium a hub for the import and transit of green hydrogen.

Meanwhile, in Germany, which has long considered phasing out atomic power, the invasion of Ukraine has sparked calls to delay a nuclear phase-out.

EON SE and EnBW Energie Baden-Wuerttemberg AG said they were open to discussing a possible expansion of operations. Although it is technically possible to keep the plants open beyond the 2022 closure deadline, the companies have said they have no contract to buy nuclear fuel after that and the government could suffer a backlash from voters and environmental groups.

Oliver Krischer, Germany’s deputy economy minister, welcomed that what he called “the five oldest and most dangerous blocks” of Tihange and Doel will be permanently closed in 2023. But he criticized the Belgium’s decision to extend the life of two of the reactors. .

“On the other hand, it is incomprehensible to extend the duration of two blocks by 10 years until 2035,” he said in a tweet on Saturday. Krischer, a member of the Greens party, represents the city of Aachen – located about 90 kilometers from the Tihange facility – in the lower house of parliament in Berlin.

(Updates with comments from German Deputy Economics Minister)

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