The Belgian government and Electrabel, have agreed on lifetime extensions for units 1 and 2 of the Doel NPP. The agreement will be drafted into law for parliamentary approval. However, nuclear regulator, the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (Fanc), must still give final approval on whether the two units can safely continue operating beyond their 40-year design lifetime. In June 2015, the Belgian lower house of parliament approved government proposals to extend the lifetimes of Doel 1&2. Electrabel shut Doel 1 in February 2015 when it reached the end of its 40-year operating life. Doel 2 is scheduled to be taken offline on 31 March 2016.
Belgian federal energy minister Marie Christine Marghem said the longer lifespan, until 2025, was necessary to ensure security of electricity supply in Belgium. The need to increase energy security was partly impelled by failures in other nuclear reactors. About half of Belgium's electricity supply comes from seven reactors. Three were offline for months on end in 2014, another two suffered temporary shutdowns. Doel 3 and unit 2 at the Tihange NPP, which each supply around 1,000MWe (13% of Belgium's electricity) have been unavailable for more than a year undergoing repair of "microcracks" in the pressure vessels. They are scheduled to restart 1 November 2015
The tax to be paid by Belgium's nuclear operators has also been revised. Marghem said negotiations had been completed on a fee for the continued operation of the two reactors and on the revision of the "nuclear contribution". Under the agreement, Electrabel must pay an annual fee of €20m ($22m) between 2016 and 2025 for continued operation of Doel 1&2 to the energy transition fund set up in June.
For operation of Doel 3&4 and Tihange 2&3 plant operators must pay a lump sum of €200m in 2015 and €130m in 2016. This was an increase on the fees of €100m for 2015 and €20m for 2016 set by a December 2006 law. From 2017, the government will revise the contribution according to a formula that takes into account the evolution of the costs, production volumes and the price of electricity.
The ministry said the nuclear contribution was based on calculations by the Commission for the Regulation of Electricity and Gas, which put the profit from all the activities of Belgium's nuclear operators (Electrabel, EDF Luminus and EDF Belgium) at some €434m. It also takes into account production and the structural downward trend in wholesale electricity prices. Electrabel's parent company, Engie, said the new agreement "establishes a stable legal and economic framework for the future."
Under current Belgian law, nuclear power is to be phased out by 2025. Doel 3 and Tihange 2 look set to close when they reach the end of their 40-year lives in 2022 and 2023, with Doel 4 and Tihange 3 along with the life-extended Tihange 1 following suit in 2025.