Nuclear power: a vital source of energy
ENGIE Electrabel is one of the pioneers of nuclear power in Belgium. Its diverse generation facilities include 7 nuclear reactors (4 at Doel, 3 at Tihange) with a total capacity of close to 6,000 MW. These generation sites employ a 2,000-strong workforce and generate approximately 50% of the electricity consumed in Belgium.
Our nuclear power plants
Doel nuclear power plantNews and figures about the Doel nuclear power plant
Tihange nuclear power plantNews and figures about the Tihange nuclear power plant
A major asset in the Belgian energy model
Using nuclear energy to generate electricity is an important factor for the energy supply. Nuclear power offers economic and energy-related advantages and helps to reduce CO2 emissions:
- 24-hour electricity supply virtually 365 days per year
- More independence compared to major suppliers of fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas)
- Preservation of fossil fuels
- One of the cheapest electricity generating technologies in Belgium
- Large volumes of CO2-neutral electricity
- Less need to import electricity
- Creates a lot of direct and indirect employment
- 1960s: a suitable response
Belgium decides to generate some of its electricity using nuclear power. Consumption is rising considerably at a regular rate and fossil fuels can no longer be considered the only possible option for meeting demand for energy. This policy results in the construction of four nuclear reactors at Doel and three at Tihange from 1968 onwards. The closeness of the Meuse and Scheldt rivers is ideal for supplying cooling water.
- 1975-1985: the oil crisis and commissioning
The first reactors (Doel 1, Doel 2 and Tihange 1) are commissioned in 1975, the perfect time to reduce Belgium’s dependence on oil.
Construction on Doel 3 and Tihange 2 is completed in 1982 and 1983 respectively, followed by the Doel 4 and Tihange 3 reactors (commissioned in 1985).
- 2000-2025: the future of nuclear power in Belgium
The Belgian federal government is reviewing the country’s energy policy, particularly with regard to whether or not to shut down Belgium’s nuclear power plants. Based on current decisions, all 7 reactors will have been shut down by 2025.
How does a pressurised water reactor (PWR) nuclear power plant work?
Nuclear power generates one-eighth of the world’s electricity. There are 449 nuclear reactors in operation spread throughout 30 countries (source: IAEA).
There are several types of nuclear reactors:
- PWR: pressurised water reactor (Tihange/Doel); almost two-thirds of the world’s reactors are PWRs)
- BWR: boiling water reactor (Fukushima)
- RBMK: high-power channel reactor, also known as a light water graphite reactor (Chernobyl)
A PWR like those nuclear reactors at Tihange and Doel has 3 completely separate water circuits. Read on for a brief overview of how they work:
- Heat released by the fission of uranium nuclei in the reactor is transferred to the water in the primary circuit.
- The hot water in the primary circuit passes on its heat to the water in the secondary circuit in a steam generator; this is transformed into steam.
- The steam turns a turbine connected to a generator, which generates electricity.
- The steam used by the turbines is cooled in a condenser, where it is turned into water upon coming into contact with the cooling water in a tertiary circuit. It is then returned to the generator.
- The reheated cooling water is cooled in a cooling tower. A small quantity escapes from the tower as a steam plume.
- The reactor: a large ultra-thick steel vessel which houses the fuel rods and produces heat.
- The fuel: uranium enhanced to 4% in pellet form; the pellets are turned into rods.
- The steam generators: they exchange heat between the primary and secondary circuits and ensure that the water and steam in the secondary circuit never come into contact with the water in the primary circuit.
- Steam turbines: composed of several parts, the turbines are turned by the pressure of the steam.
- The generator: transforms mechanical energy into electricity.
- The transformers: up the voltage to 380 kV to minimise losses during the transmission to users.
- The condenser: exchanges the heat of the steam with water of a tertiary circuit, changing the steam back into water.
- Control room: controls all activities at the power plant 24 hours a day (e.g. launch, shut down, modulation).
- The cooling tower: re-cools the reheated water from the condenser by bringing it into contact with a current of rising air; a steam plume is released from the tower.
Want to know more:
Brochure Tihange (in French)
Brochure Generating electricity (in French)