FinanceBelgium is dubiously closing its first reactor

Belgium is dubiously closing its first reactor


Although the Doel nuclear power plant has been planned to be decommissioned since 2003, several voices called for its expansion in the context of soaring energy prices.

Belgium shuts down the first reactor on Friday 23 September as part of a planned withdrawal from nuclear power plants, but the decision is questionable and controversial in the face of soaring energy prices amid the war in Ukraine.

Operator Engie will close at around 21:00 (19:00 GMT) one of the four reactors of the Doel nuclear power plant, located in the port of Antwerp (north) on the Scheldt. By itself, it could generate up to 10% of the country’s electricity. The disconnection of the 40-year-old Doel 3 reactor has been in preparation for a long time. It is part of the Belgian nuclear exit plan approved in 2003, which originally foresaw the shutdown of seven reactors by 2025, which cover around half of the country’s needs.

However, as deadlines approach, it seems the federal government is divided on the issue, with rising energy costs weighing on households and businesses. Already in March, he agreed with difficulty to extend two of the seven nuclear reactors until 2036. Belgium is not closing the door to next-generation nuclear energy in the future. But Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden (Flemish Christian Democrats) set fire to gunpowder last week, asking the Belgian Nuclear Safety Authority (AFCN) whether it was possible to postpone the dismantling of Doel 3 if the reactor restarted planned later …

“Not a sign of good governance”

Green Deputy Prime Minister Petra De Sutter said to herself “thrilled” thereby questioning the calendar “A few days before ceasing to operate”. And Engie responded with a dam. “The reactor will be permanently shut down and therefore not intended to be restarted”, the operator’s spokeswoman explained AFP, who stressed that she had not received any request from the government on this matter. For its part, the AFCN has not officially closed any doors, but replied to Annelies Verlinden that a decision had been made “very late” the expansion of the reactor was not “Is not a sign of good governance” and she couldn’t “Does not guarantee that a late and unprepared scenario does not pose a threat to nuclear safety”. The pro-nukes were supposed to be demonstrating in Doel this morning, demanding maintenance of the reactor “in operational condition”.

In theory, restarting the reactor would not be impossible. Following a shutdown on Friday night, preparatory work will take about five years before decommissioning the reactor. “During this first phase, there is no technically irreversible operation”, said Peter Moens, director of the power plant. However, he felt that a postponement or a reversal of the trial would not be “Neither wise nor advised” for technical and operational reasons, referring in particular to the lack of fuel and staff.

The Belgian debate resembles that in Germany, where conservative and liberal politicians are calling for the extension of the country’s last three nuclear reactors beyond the end of 2022, the date they are scheduled to shut down. For now, Berlin has simply agreed to keep two reactors on standby until spring 2023 to deal with possible emergencies. In Belgium, the electricity transmission system operator Elia indicated that it did not foresee any related supply risks “stop that was scheduled”. “We have sufficient production capacity to meet the demand”an AFP spokesman said.

The boom in renewable, solar and wind energy, including offshore, enabled the country to achieve record exports in 2021. Gas power plants accounted for a quarter of the energy mix. Greenpeace claims that “The closure of Doel 3 poses no security of supply problem and has no significant impact on the price of electricity”. The French-speaking liberals of the Reform Movement (MR), however, fear shortages. “Faced with the risk of a power cut in France this winter, with Germany moving away from nuclear power, but which has run out of gas, we know we will have great difficulties.”, warned former Minister of Energy (MR) Marie-Christine Marghem. She called for the repeal of the Nuclear Weapons Exit Act, which she believed to be “was”.

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