By Benedict De Meulemeester on 20/08/2012
The Belgian press seems to have discovered that the problems with Doel III could turn into a supply problem. All day long, interviews and statements have been published and aired about the possibility of power shortages next winter when two nuclear power plants could be shut down due to the reactor vessel fissures. Ministers of the government disagree on whether there will be a shortage and whether this will drive up prices. And nobody even seems to dare to think about the worst case scenario. I described that in my previous blog article, namely the possibility that the fissures discovered in Doel III can be found in many more nuclear reactor vessels. That we have discovered a larger problem in Belgium by applying new measurement technology and that applying that measurement to other nuclear power stations will unveil similar problems. I had hardly published my blog article, or I read in De Morgen that the nuclear inspection authorities, FANC, are indeed considering that possibility …
However, I don’t want to spread any panic. Like I said in my previous problem, this could still turn out to be a non-event. We have seen last year with the shutdown of eight nuclear power plants in Germany that we should be careful of over-estimating the effect in terms of shortages and price increases. However, we could be heading for a severe power supply crisis in Belgium and Europe. It is therefore more than appropriate to start thinking about what we can do to limit shortage issues. Here are my ideas:
However, I am afraid that these are the only measures that the government can take to avoid problems next winter. There is however, a whole set of measures that should be implemented to avoid that we get ourselves into this situation ever again.
Fukushima in 2011 and the Doel III incident, have made clear that nuclear energy is far from the cheap, safe and reliable energy that its proponents claim it to be. As far as safety is concerned, Fukushima made clear that severe accidents happen three times as often as previously estimated. The Doel III incident makes clear that it is impossible to identify all potential safety risks upfront. As far as price is concerned, I recommend anyone to have a look into the discussion currently regarding investment in new nuclear power plants in the UK. Potential investors want a £140 per MWh guaranteed power price. That is not cheap, it is more than twice the current UK wholesale market price. And if you consider the sort of supply issues we would face if the worst case scenario regarding the vessel fissures becomes reality, reliability of nuclear energy becomes problematic. Especially in countries like France and Belgium, with more than half of the power produced by nuclear, this over-dependence creates a serious problem in case of safety issues.
If ever there was something like a nuclear renaissance going on, my guess is that it is definitely over by now. It looks like our future power mix will be based mostly on a combination of renewable and gas-fired electricity. Security of electricity supply is therefore always a question of security of gas supply as well. For securing our gas markets, we should take the following measures: