By Benedict De Meulemeester on 11/10/2009
Belgium produces approximately 60% of its electricity in the nuclear power plants situated in Doel and Tihange. A decade ago it was decided that these would be phased out. That decision has now been reversed. The oldest plants will keep on running beyond 2015, the date put forward for their shutdown.
In 1999, Belgium lived through a political earthquake. Right before the elections, a food scandal broke out, with chickens polluted with dioxin coming from industrial oil that got mixed up in chicken food. The result was a landslide electoral victory for the Green parties in both Flanders and the Walloon Region. The Greens made a government together with liberals and socialists.
The green parties in Belgium, like in most European countries, have their roots in the anti-nuclear movement, the mass protests against nuclear arms of the late seventies and eighties. To them, the triple danger of nuclear accidents, storage of nuclear waste and proliferation of nuclear technology, makes nuclear the worst possible technology for producing electricity. It was therefore not surprising that the green parties enforced legislation for a nuclear phase-out. As of 2015, when the oldest nuclear power plants reach the end of their lifetime, the law asked for them to be shut down. As such, the share of electricity produced by nuclear power, currently approximately 60%, would start to fall.
One would suspect that politicians that have just voted to close nuclear power plants would draw up a plan for investing in the transition towards a new power production. Not so in Belgium. Since 1999, no new large scale power plants have opened. Admitted, renewable energy is developing remarkably swift, thanks to strong incentives. But the small scale of renewable energy plants make it an unlikely replacement for the massive amounts of energy currently produced by nuclear power plants. The result is undeniable. In the past decade, Belgium has switched from being an exporter into becoming an importer of electricity.
Most of that electricity is coming from France, where it is produced in … nuclear power plants. Proponents of keeping Belgian nuclear power plants therefore have a valid argument when they point out that shutting them down is hypocrisy. The Belgians won’t stop consuming nuclear energy, they will just bring it in from abroad instead of producing it inside their own borders. Therefore, the decision to keep the Belgian nuclear plants open for longer than 2015 looks like sound policy. Moreover, it was probably inevitable. The initial phase-out law included a passage that said that the phase-out would be turned back if it could be proven that it would cause problems for the power supply of the country. As such, the current decision was already embedded in the initial decision to shut down.
Still, I am disappointed by the way our politicians treat this important issue regarding the energy supply of our country for several reasons:
The political bickering of the past days makes me pessimistic. I fear that Electrabel compensation will take the shape of a tax that will be passed through to the consumers of power. And I also fear that another good opportunity of negotiating measures to improve the situation of the Belgian power market will get lost.