Belgium’s Nuclear Future Hangs in the Balance Amid Political Shifts

Brussels, June 15, 2024 – As Belgium stands at a critical juncture in its energy policy, the debate over nuclear power continues to spark intense political discourse.

With the imminent formation of a new federal government, the direction of Belgium’s energy strategy remains uncertain, though nuclear power is poised to play a central role in the coming years.

For two decades, nuclear energy has been a contentious issue in Belgium. A 2003 law envisioned phasing out nuclear electricity production, but technological advances and shifting geopolitical landscapes have complicated this plan.

The rise of renewable energy and the increasing volatility in global energy markets have forced Belgium to reconsider its energy mix, prioritizing security and affordability.

Currently, Belgium’s energy needs are substantial, with nuclear power providing over 40% of its electricity. The outgoing Federal Minister for Energy, Tinne Van der Straeten of the Flemish Green party Groen, has been a vocal critic of nuclear power.

However, practical realities compelled her to support extending the life of certain nuclear reactors to maintain energy stability.

Belgium operates two nuclear power plants: Doel, near Antwerp in Flanders, and Tihange, near Huy in Wallonia.

Five reactors are currently in service: Doel 1, 2, and 4, and Tihange 1 and 3. However, Doel 1 and 2, along with Tihange 1, are scheduled to shut down by the end of 2025, raising concerns about potential energy deficits.

An agreement reached last year extended the lifespans of Doel 4 and Tihange 3 until 2035, but this still leaves a significant gap in nuclear capacity.

Renewable energy sources, although expanding, are not yet sufficient to fill the void left by nuclear power.

Offshore wind and solar energy, while promising, are currently unable to meet the demand due to their dependency on weather conditions and the lengthy time required to scale up.

As the political landscape shifts, the likely coalition of the Flemish right-wing N-VA, francophone liberals MR, and Flemish socialists Vooruit, alongside potential partners Flemish Christian democrats CD&V and francophone centrists Les Engagés, suggests a pro-nuclear stance.

Both N-VA and MR explicitly support nuclear energy, while Vooruit may demand stricter conditions for their endorsement.

Several proposals are on the table to ensure energy security. One option is to extend the operational life of Tihange 1 with modern upgrades to meet safety standards, potentially allowing it to run until 2035.

Critics argue this approach would be costly and technically challenging. Another proposal is to prolong the lifespans of Doel 4 and Tihange 3 for 20 years instead of ten, a move that would require renegotiations with the operating company Engie-Electrabel and could significantly increase state costs.

Belgium’s Federal Agency for Nuclear Control has warned that planning for 20-year extensions introduces additional complexities and financial burdens.

The agency emphasizes that most current plans are based on 10-year intervals, suggesting that long-term decisions will need careful consideration and future adjustments.

The urgency for Belgium to decide on its nuclear strategy cannot be overstated. As the country grapples with ensuring a stable and affordable energy supply, the choices made by the upcoming government will have far-reaching implications for its industrial base and energy sovereignty.

As the debate continues, one thing is clear: Belgium’s nuclear future remains a pivotal issue, requiring immediate and decisive action to navigate the challenges ahead.

 

This article was created using automation technology and was thoroughly edited and fact-checked by one of our editorial staff members

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