Nuclear power: Belgium closes a reactor at the Doel       power plant

Nuclear power: Belgium closes a reactor at the Doel power plant

The Doel nuclear power plant near Antwerp, Belgium, in January 2016. The Doel nuclear power plant near Antwerp, Belgium in January 2016. EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP

The operator Engie will shut down one of the four reactors of the Doel nuclear power plant in the port of Antwerp (North) on the Scheldt at around 9 p.m. on Friday 23 September. It alone could produce up to 10% of the country’s electricity.

The shutdown of the 40-year-old Doel 3 reactor has been in preparation for a long time. It is part of Belgium’s nuclear phase-out plan, approved in 2003, which originally called for the seven reactors, which supply about half the country’s needs, to be shut down by 2025.

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But as the deadlines approach, doubts seem to persuade the federal government, which is divided on the issue while rising energy costs weigh on households and businesses. Back in March, he had laboriously agreed to extend two of the seven nuclear reactors to 2036. For the future, Belgium is not closing the door to the new generation of nuclear energy.

Interior minister Annelies Verlinden (CD&V, for Christen-Democratisch en Vlaams – “Christian Democrats and Flemings”) reignited tensions last week by asking Belgium’s nuclear safety agency (or AFCN, for Federal Agency for Nuclear Control) if a postponement was possible the dismantling of Doel 3 in the event that it is planned to restart the reactor at a later date.

Deputy Prime Minister for the Environment Petra De Sutter said she was “shocked” by the calendar being called into question “a few days before the plant was to be closed”.

“No technically irreversible operation”

“The reactor will be shut down definitively and will therefore not be restarted,” a spokesman for Engie told Agence France-Presse (AFP), who said he had not received a government request. For its part, FANC replied to Ms Verlinden that a “very late” decision to extend the reactor was “not a sign of good governance” and that he “could not guarantee that a late and unprepared decision would not pose a risk to nuclear safety”.

Pro-nuclear advocates were scheduled to demonstrate in Doel in the morning to demand that the reactor be kept “in working order”. In theory, restarting the reactor would not be impossible. After the stop on Friday evening, the preparatory work before the reactor can be dismantled will take around five years. “During this first phase, no technically irreversible operation takes place,” confirmed the director of the plant, Peter Moens. But he said postponing or reversing the process was “neither prudent nor advisable” for technical and operational reasons, citing fuel and staff shortages in particular.

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The Belgian debate mirrors that in Germany, where conservative and liberal politicians are calling for the country’s last three nuclear reactors to be extended beyond their planned shutdown date of late 2022. For the time being, Berlin has only promised to keep two reactors on standby until spring 2023 for possible emergencies.

In Belgium, electricity transmission system operator Elia said it does not expect any supply risks related to this “planned shutdown”. “We have enough production capacity to meet demand,” a spokesman told AFP.

For its part, Greenpeace reiterates that “the closure of Doel 3 will not pose a security of supply issue and will not have a significant impact on the price of electricity”.

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The boom in renewable energy, sun and wind, including offshore, has given the country record exports in 2021. Gas-fired power plants made up a quarter of the energy mix.

The world with AFP