Are Tihange 1 and Doel 1 and 2 necessary for ensuring Belgium's security of supply?

Security of supply must be viewed in the medium and long term. Since, for its security of supply, Belgium is increasingly dependent on importing electricity, we have to take account of the development of generating facilities in neighbouring countries.

 

What have we observed in this regard? In the years ahead, our neighbouring countries will have increasingly less surplus capacity for export to Belgium. The Netherlands might stop or reduce its exports to Belgium starting in 2019. With regard to the deployment of renewable energy sources, i.e. wind and solar, there is still a margin of uncertainty. Neither the availability of generating facilities, nor the weather can be perfectly forecast. Periods with little wind or sun, as well as cold snaps, are always a possibility, meaning much less renewable energy is produced. For all these reasons, Tihange 1 and Doel 1 and 2 are needed in order to ensure security of supply now and in the near future. ENGIE Electrabel fully believes in the energy transition to more renewable energy. However, until Belgium has developed a clear, concrete, long-term energy vision and there is a stable investment climate, we need our nuclear power stations.

Why did the law have to be changed in order to keep Doel 1 and 2 operating longer?

The choice to keep nuclear power stations operating longer is strictly political. In 2003, the federal parliament passed a law under which the Doel and Tihange nuclear power stations had to close after 40 years of operation. This meant that Doel 1, Doel 2 and Tihange 1 would shut down in 2015. However, the law states that any such shutdowns must not compromise security of supply.

 

Between 2009 and 2012, ENGIE Electrabel prepared a technical dossier on extending the service life of these power stations by 10 years. In 2012, the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (AFCN/FANC) approved both dossiers after a thorough assessment. Shortly thereafter, the government decided to keep only Tihange 1 operating longer. Result: ENGIE Electrabel initiated a project to decommission Doel 1 and 2. Until 2014, that is, when the Michel 1 government included the possibility of restarting it in its coalition agreement. Finally, in mid-2015, the amendment to the Nuclear Withdrawal Act was approved, allowing Doel 1 and 2 to remain operational until 2025.

Are Tihange 1 and Doel 1 and 2 ready to remain operational until 2025?

Extending the service life of Tihange 1 and Doel 1 and 2 means continually investing in the facilities in order to keep them in top condition for their entire lifetimes. A lot of work is being done and investments are being made in connection with the long-term operation: replacing the transformers, replacing the operating systems, and a major overhaul of the turbines, for example. All in all, this will entail an investment of around €1.3 billion for both the Doel and Tihange power stations together. However, once the lifetime extension projects have been completed, the facilities must be monitored and maintained continuously - just like always.

What about neighbouring countries asking for a greater say in the lifetime extension?

In recent years, for example, some in the Netherlands have called for a say in the decision to extend the lifetime of Belgium's nuclear power stations. In a Europe with open borders, this is understandable, but the rules governing the operation of Belgium's nuclear power stations are set out in Belgian legislation. There is no provision for giving neighbouring countries a say in these matters. The same holds true in the other direction: in the Netherlands, for example, the Borssele nuclear power station has already been granted a 20-year lifetime extension. Borssele is not far from the Belgian border, but Dutch legislation does not provide for neighbouring countries to have any say in these matters.

Lifetime extension: how unusual is it?

Shutting down nuclear power stations after 40 years of operation is a social and political issue, not a technical necessity. Doel 1 and 2 are no longer the power stations they were 40 years ago. They have been continually upgraded and modernised over the years. They comply with today's stringent standards.

 

The lifetime extension is not at all unusual. Of the 438 reactors currently in operation around the world, 63 are at least 40 years old. This includes the Borssele power station in the Netherlands, Beznau in Switzerland, Ringhals in Sweden and more than 30 nuclear power stations in the United States. Across the world, the operating life of nuclear power stations has generally been extended to 60 years.

 

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