D.he Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo clearly rejected nuclear energy at the last EU summit. The Flemish Liberal emphasized that the nuclear power brake in Belgium is currently even preventing the necessary expansion of renewable energies. He stood up against the French President Emmanuel Macron and other heads of state and government who are campaigning for a stronger role for nuclear power in view of the high energy prices and the strict EU climate targets. In Germany, too, the topic is back on the agenda. The position of the Belgian Government is by no means as clear-cut as De Croo portrays it. Belgium made the phase-out of nuclear energy a law as early as 2003. According to the decision of the current government, which consists of a total of seven parties, the seven reactors are to be shut down by 2025.
Within the government, however, resistance has been rising for some time – and that from the liberals from the French south of the country, from Wallonia: from the sister party of De Croos Open VLD. Its president, Georges-Louis Bouchez, is vehemently promoting an extension of the service life of two reactors by at least ten years and is also bringing the construction of new nuclear power plants into play, as in France, Great Britain and China. The Belgian government, in which the Flemish and Walloon Greens are also involved, is facing an acid test. By the end of the month she has to once again finally confirm the nuclear phase-out by 2025, and Bouchez is looking for an open confrontation.
Dependence on other countries through gas power plants
Bouchez argues that nuclear energy guarantees security of supply and low energy prices. So far it has covered 40 percent of the electricity demand. Belgium thus has the highest share of nuclear energy in the energy mix behind France, Slovakia and the Ukraine. In addition, it is needed to achieve the EU climate target of reducing CO2 emissions by 55 percent by 2030 compared to 1990, says the Liberal. It is impossible to explain to the people that they should do without their gas heating, because they damage the climate, but Belgium itself is building new gas-fired power plants at the same time to compensate for the loss of atomic energy. “Nuclear power is a bad solution, but emitting more CO2 with gas-fired power plants is worse,” said Bouchez in an interview with the Belgian newspaper Le Soir.
In fact, the responsible minister, the Flemish Green Tinne Van der Straeten, wants to state subsidies for the construction of two new gas-fired power plants in order to compensate for part of the lost capacities. Otherwise, the European Greens strictly reject investments in gas as a transition technology. Van der Straeten admits that CO2 emissions in Belgium would rise temporarily from 2026 onwards. Bouchez also accuses the Greens of making themselves dependent on countries like Russia for building gas-fired power plants, which is also an old argument by the Greens against gas as an energy source.
No support within the government
The debate is also sensitive because the Belgian nuclear power plants at the Tihange and Doel locations have long been considered unreliable and are viewed with suspicion in the neighboring countries of Germany and Luxembourg. However, it is uncertain whether Bouchez will prevail. According to Belgian law, an extension of the service life of up to two reactors beyond 2025 is actually only possible if the security of supply is otherwise jeopardized or if the shutdown threatens a sharp rise in the price of electricity. In the opinion of the experts commissioned by the government, however, this is not the case.
At the end of the day, the decision is left to politics. But Bouchez has no support within the government. He only finds it in the opposition, especially in the right-wing populist N-VA. It is involved in the government in Dutch-speaking Flanders and is blocking the construction of one of the two new gas-fired power plants that are needed there. If necessary, both will be built in Wallonia, announced the President of the French-speaking Greens, Jean-Marc Nollet.
The energy company Engie warns against letting the reactors run longer anyway. The company has prepared for the dismantling. At the same time, the EU Commission long ago approved the planned state aid to cushion the exit. So Bouchez is already rowing back and saying: “If I lose, my ego will recover, but for my country it would be a mistake.”
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