On Thursday December 23rd, the Belgian government reached an agreement on the nuclear future of the country. The seven parties in the governing coalition in Brussels have been at loggerheads for weeks over the issue, with the Greens insisting that the 2003 law providing for a nuclear phase-out be respected while the liberal-minded French-speaking Reform Movement (MR) argued for keeping the two most recent reactors in operation.
There are two parts to the agreement. The first is that Belgium will do without the existing old nuclear reactors in 2025. However, there is a clause regarding the security of energy supply to avoid a blackout. To replace this nuclear energy, gas-fired power plants would have to be deployed. However, the Flemish Minister of Energy, Zuhal Demir, refuses to grant the permit to build a gas-fired power plant in Vilvoorde.
To get around this obstacle, a meeting has been set for March 15h where other options will be studied, with other sites such as Tessenderlo and Manage being mentioned. If all other options are not feasible, then perhaps the old reactors will be discussed again. The negotiators are not closing any doors, but the idea of the agreement is to strengthen plan A: that is, to shut down the seven old-generation reactors.
The second part of the agreement is that Belgium is not turning its back on nuclear power. The country wants to shut down its old reactors by investing in the nuclear power of the future and new generation plants. 100 million euros of investment are planned in the search for sustainable energy, especially in small modular reactors (SMRs). The government has therefore decided to change the legal framework. A new energy law is going to see the light of day, committing Belgium to a carbon neutral energy strategy by 2050.
Belgium has still not said how it intends to compensate for the drop in electricity production after the closure of nuclear reactors, with the possibility of gas-fired power plants being considered. A decision on this subject may not be taken before March. The two Belgian nuclear power plants, with a total of seven reactors, are operated by the French company Engie.