Belgium has delayed a plan to phase out nuclear power by 2025 by a decade, spooked by soaring energy prices due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The federal government has decided to take the necessary measures to extend the life of two nuclear reactors by ten years.
This enlargement will strengthen our country’s independence from fossil fuels in a turbulent geopolitical environment.
Alexander De Croo, Prime Minister.
The extension to 2035 comes at a time of growing calls for neighboring Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, to also rethink its exit from nuclear power, but ministers in Berlin last week reaffirmed their commitment not to use atomic energy despite the price crisis.
Europe is struggling to find a way out of its energy dependence on Russia, which supplies 40% of Europe’s gas needs, mainly Germany, Italy and several central European countries.
Prices have soared for Europeans since Russia invaded Ukraine, and EU leaders are due to meet next week to agree new emergency measures to soften the blow to consumers and businesses.
Belgium currently has two nuclear power plants with a total of seven reactors.
The promise of a phase-out of nuclear energy has been enshrined in Belgian law since 2003, and the decision to delay the moratorium again was strongly contested by the Greens party.
In the plan, the government agreed to extend the life of the Doel 4 reactor near the port city of Antwerp and Tihange 3 near Liège until 2035.
De Croo insisted the decision would give the country security after years of disputes over whether to leave nuclear power.
For too long, our country has lacked vision. This caused a lot of uncertainty. The plan we have on the table today responds to this lack of vision.
The government is to negotiate with French energy giant Engie, owner of Belgium’s nuclear power plants, the costs and delivery of the new plan.
Engie had previously indicated that it was too late for Croo’s government to change its mind.
The government has also warned that the two reactors will not be available for the winter of 2025 anyway.
The Greens had made it a condition to phase out nuclear power in 2025 to join a coalition of seven politically fragile and painfully cobbled together parties in 2020, more than a year after inconclusive elections.
But since the February 24 invasion, with rising energy prices, the party has signaled that it would be willing to consider an alternative scenario.
In Germany and other neighboring countries, massive protests have taken place against the two oldest reactors, Tihange 2 and Doel 3, since experts discovered thousands of tiny cracks in the reactors’ pressure vessels in 2012 .