As electricity prices soar throughout the world, Belgium announced on Friday that it is delaying its plans to scrap nuclear energy in the country — a target previously set for 2025 — by 10 years, World Nuclear News reports.
The war in Ukraine and the fallout of the pandemic are causing energy prices to skyrocket around the world. Against this backdrop, officials everywhere are forced to consider and reconsider their countries’ energy strategies. Belgium is no exception. According to a statement released by the Belgian government on Friday, the country will be delaying its planned phasing out of nuclear energy by 10 years on account of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the disruption this has caused on the energy markets.
Keeping the lights on
“The federal government has decided to take the necessary steps to extend the life of two nuclear reactors by ten years,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said in a statement. “This extension will strengthen our country’s independence from fossil fuels in a turbulent geopolitical environment”.
The announcement comes amid calls for a rethinking of the continent’s energy strategy amid skyrocketing prices that have shaken Europe over the last two years. Portugal and Spain are calling for price controls, France has already taken such price caps into its own hands (and on the chin of its national energy company EDF) while also pledging financial assistance to households that cannot afford to pay the increasing price of electricity. Belgium’s neighbour and Europe’s single largest economy, Germany, is also facing internal and external pressure to rethink its exit from nuclear energy, although its ministers seem to be hunkering down on the pledge.
Russian exports currently cover around 40% of Europe’s needs for natural gas and thus have a very large part to play in their energy make-up. The onset of hostilities has sent energy prices to dizzying heights in Europe. Although the European Union has been making great efforts (and progress) into uncoupling its energy grids from Russian imports, that 40% figure shows that there is still a long way to go before it can truly call itself independent. Germany, Italy, and a handful of central European countries are the most dependent on these imports.
Much of the EU’s interest has gone into renewable energy such as wind and solar, but with the onset of hostilities in Ukraine, many have started asking whether nuclear energy shouldn’t play a more significant role in Europe’s efforts — especially right now when energy is at a premium.
EU leaders will be meeting next week to decide on emergency measures to insulate consumers and businesses from the increase in energy prices. Nuclear power will definitely be among the talking points.
Right now, Belgium runs two nuclear plants totalling seven reactors. The decision to phase them out was codified into Belgian law in 2003. The plan decided on by the government — announced on Friday — will extend the operating lives of the Doel 4 reactor near Antwerp and the Tihange 3 reactor near Liege up until 2035. Despite the severity of the situation, the local Green party was adamantly against the decision to postpone their phasing out. The government will now start negotiations with French energy company Engie, who owns the nuclear plants, on the costs and delivery stipulations of the new plan.
De Croo explains that this decision is meant to give Belgium some energetic security, and some clarity in the path the country should take moving forward after years of bickering on the nuclear exit.
“For too long our country has lacked vision,” De Croo told a news conference. “This has caused a lot of uncertainty. The plan we have on the table today responds to that lack of vision.”
Although a decision has been made, it remains to be seen how Engie reacts to the news. The company has suggested in the past that it is too late for Belgium to rescind their decision to make a nuclear exit.