Belgium's government said on 23 December that it expected to close down all its nuclear power plants by 2025 but would continue to invest in future technologies, in particular small modular reactors (SMRs). This followed weeks of debate within the governing seven-party 'Vivaldi' coalition of liberals, socialists and Greens from both Flemish and French-speaking parts of Belgium as well as the Flemish Christian Democrats.
Belgium currently has seven nuclear power reactors three at Tihange near Liege and four at Doel near Antwerp. All seven units are pressurised water reactors. Apart from Doel 1&2, which are 430 MWe plants, the others are all approximately 1000 MWe.
While the Greens insisted that the government should implement a 2003 law on Belgium's exit from nuclear power, French-speaking liberals sought to keep the two newest reactors in operation (Doel 4 and Tihange 3). Belgian broadcaster RTBF said ministers had agreed to invest in "renewable and carbon-neutral energies" which would include next-generation nuclear power and would involve funding for small modular reactors (SMRs).
Liberal Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, together with Energy Minister Tinne Van der Straeten (Greens), developed the agreement following intense discussions. De Croo said the agreement was concluded "with an open look to innovation" and the desire to develop expertise and know-how. “We have already done this for offshore wind and more including hydrogen,” he told a press conference. Van der Sraeten said it was "a look to the future", adding that "the exit from nuclear power is not an end in itself”.
De Croo said the first objective of the agreement would be to ensure security of energy supply. "Our people and our companies are entitled to that," he said, adding that the second objective was "to fully opt for innovation” which “means that we will invest in research into newer technologies”. Funding of €100 million ($113m) over four years has been promised for research on SMRs.
The agreement hopes to see two gas-fired plants built to make up the energy shortfall, although the government will revisit the plan in March over possible permit issues. De Croo said it was possible the newer reactors could be extended, but added this was "very unlikely".
There are two plans – A to phase out nuclear power in 2025 and B as a fall back to consider extending operation of Doel 4 and Tihange 3. Concretely, plan A is being maintained and the Capacity Remuneration Mechanism (CRM) is continuing. The CRM is a mechanism for subsidising, via auctions, various capacities aimed at compensating for the nuclear phase out. However, faced with the failure to obtain a permit for a gas-fired power station in Vilvoorde, the federal government is continuing to analyse the situation.
On 17 January, the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) and the Energy Directorate of the Federal Public Service Economy will have to submit a report which listed and analyse the actions necessary for activation of plan B if in March, Elia, the operator of the electricity transmission networks reports announces that the CRM does not offer security of supply.
Photo: Tihange in Belgium (Credit: Hullie - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)