Belgium turns off nuclear reactor despite energy crisis

Photo: Anadolu Agency/ GettyImages

Despite a looming energy crisis, one of Belgium’s seven nuclear reactors was disconnected from the grid on Friday evening. This follows legislation passed in 2003 requiring reactors to be shut down after 40 years of operation.

Belgium has two nuclear power plants: Doel near Antwerp and Tihange near the town of Huy in Wallonia. The two plants consist of seven reactors (four at Doel and three at Tihange) covering around 50 percent of the country’s electricity needs, according to the news website Euractiv.

The closure could not be postponed

On Friday, the Doel 3 reactor was disconnected from the power grid in accordance with the 2003 Nuclear Abandonment Act. The law was passed at the insistence of the “green” parties that were part of the government at that time. The legislation stipulates that reactors are to be shut down 40 years after being put into operation.

A spokeswoman for the energy company Engie, which operates Belgium’s nuclear power plants, Nele Scheerlinck, stated that “the decision was made years ago” and “it is simply not possible to change plans at such short notice”.

In addition to the logistical challenges that a reactor upgrade would bring, there are also legal barriers. “According to the law, the production of electricity by the (Doel 3) reactor after October 1 2022, is prohibited,” Mrs Scheerlinck stressed, quoted by the Brussels Times website.

“We have been preparing for this for four years. (...) We are not going to restart the reactor. When it comes to nuclear safety, I am not going to improvise,” Doel power plant director Peter Moens declared, as quoted by Euractiv.

Older reactors could stay open a little longer

Admittedly, the authorities had previously decided to extend the operation of the older Doel 1, Doel 2 and Tihange 1 plants until 2025, but in the case of Doel 3, the decision to shut down was supposedly irreversible.

Nevertheless, the head of the Belgian Interior Ministry Annelies Verlinden called for a halt to the reactor closure.