Belgium delays nuclear phase-out by 10 years due to war in Ukraine
Brussels (AFP) – Belgium on Friday delayed its plan to phase out nuclear power by 2025 by a decade, spooked by the huge spike in energy prices due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The Federal Government has decided to take the necessary measures to extend the life of two nuclear reactors by ten years,” 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,” he added.
The push to 2035 comes amid growing calls for neighboring Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, to also rethink its exit from nuclear power, but ministers in Berlin last week doubled down on their pledge countries not to emit atoms despite the price shock.
Europe is scrambling to find ways to wean itself off its energy dependence on Russia, which supplies 40% of Europe’s gas needs, mainly to Germany, Italy and several central European countries.
Prices have skyrocketed for Europeans since Russia invaded Ukraine and EU leaders will meet next week to agree new emergency measures to soften the blow to consumers and businesses .
Belgium currently operates two nuclear power plants with a total of seven reactors.
The promise of a gradual exit from nuclear energy has been enshrined in Belgian law since 2003 and the decision to delay the moratorium again was fiercely opposed by the Greens party.
In Friday’s plan, which was negotiated in a marathon cabinet session, the government agreed to extend the life of the reactors at Doel 4 near the port city of Antwerp and Tihange 3 near Liège until ‘in 2035.
De Croo insisted the decision would give the country certainty after years of wrangling over the wisdom of phasing out nuclear power.
“For too long our country has lacked vision,” De Croo told a press conference. “It caused a lot of uncertainty. The plan we have on the table today addresses that lack of vision.”
The government is to negotiate with French energy giant Engie, owner of nuclear power plants in Belgium, over costs and delivery of the new plan.
Engie had previously indicated that it was too late for the De Croo government to change its mind.
The government has also warned that the two reactors will not be available for the winter of 2025 anyway.
The Greens had made phasing out nuclear power in 2025 a condition for joining a politically fragile seven-party coalition that was painfully cobbled together in 2020, more than a year after inconclusive elections.
But since the February 24 invasion, with soaring energy prices, the party has signaled that it would be willing to consider an alternative scenario.
There have been massive protests against two older reactors – Tihange 2 and Doel 3 – in Germany and other neighboring countries since experts discovered thousands of hairline cracks in reactor pressure vessels in 2012.
© 2022 AFP