Nuclear: When in doubt, Belgium closes its first reactor

Nuclear: When in doubt, Belgium closes its first reactor

Belgium on Friday shut down a first reactor as part of its nuclear phase-out, but the decision raises doubts and controversy amid rising energy prices amid the war in Ukraine.

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 21:00 (19:00 GMT). 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 initially called for the shutdown of the seven reactors, which supply about half the country’s needs, by 2025.

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.

But Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden (Flemish Christian Democrat) set the powder on fire last week by asking the Belgian Nuclear Safety Agency (AFCN) whether it would be possible to postpone the dismantling of Doel 3 in the event that the reactor restart was later planned …

– Echo of the German debate –

Ecology Deputy Prime Minister Petra De Sutter said she was “shocked” by this challenge to the schedule “a few days before operations were to cease”.

And Engie answered with a barrage. “The reactor will be permanently shut down and will not be restarted,” a spokesman for the operator told AFP, stressing that he had not received any such request from the government.

For its part, FANC did not officially close doors, but responded to Ms Verlinden that a “very late” decision to expand the reactor was “not a sign of good governance” and that it “cannot guarantee that a late and unprepared scenario poses no risk to the.” 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 shutdown 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,” confirms plant manager 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.

The Belgian debate mirrors the German one, 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, the electricity transmission system operator Elia indicated that it does not expect any supply risks related to this “planned stop”.

“We have enough production capacity to meet demand,” a spokesman told AFP.

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.

Greenpeace asserts that “the closure of Doel 3 does not pose a security of supply issue and will not have a significant impact on electricity prices”.

However, the French-speaking Liberals of the Reform Movement (MR) fear bottlenecks.

“With the risk of a blackout in France this winter, a nuclear phase-out by Germany but which has run out of gas, we know we will face great difficulties,” warned former Energy Minister (MR) Marie-Christine Marghem.

She called for the repeal of the nuclear phase-out law, which she considers “made”.

Reference: www.challenges.fr

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