Belgium set to phase out nuclear power

New governing coalition agrees in principle to end use of nuclear energy by 2025

Belgium looks set to become the third EU country to adopt a nuclear power phase-out policy, as the country's two Green parties negotiate to join a national government for the first time. The development follows their strong gains in recent elections that were overshadowed by the crisis over dioxins discovered in food items (ENDS Daily 15 June).

Politicians from six parties are still locked in negotiations on the new government's political programme, but the Flemish and French-speaking Green parties claim there is a firm agreement on phasing out nuclear power. Johan Malcorps, an MP from the Flemish-speaking Green party, Agalev, told ENDS Daily: "We hope that with this plan we can start a [phase-out] operation that can not be changed. This is the end of nuclear energy in Belgium."

Under the plan, Belgium would decommission any reactor when it reaches forty years of age. This would mean Belgium's oldest plant would close in 2015 and the country's total of seven plants would be decommissioned by 2025. Mr Malcorps said there would also be changes in the way customers were charged for electricity, with industry paying more than at present while domestic consumers would be protected from massive price rises. Belgium is in the throes of liberalising its energy market and the Greens will have to find common ground on this issue with its coalition partners, the Socialists and the pro free-trade Liberals.

The electricity industry is infuriated by the planned phase-out. Philippe Massart, a spokesman for the principle electricity company Electrabel, said: "It's a totally political decision which does not take into account economic and environmental analyses." Plans by the government in waiting to reduce energy consumption and stimulate renewable energy would not be sufficient to fill the gap, he said. More than half of Belgium's electricity comes from nuclear power, while less than 5% comes from renewables. Under its Kyoto Protocol commitments, the country also has to achieve a 7.5 % cut in its 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by 2008-2012, so recourse to conventional fuels would not be a viable option.

The politicians hope to finalise the policy document this evening and its contents will then have to be ratified by the parties involved. The new government will not take power before next week at the earliest.

Follow Up:
Electrabel, tel: +32 2 518 6111; Agalev, tel: +32 2 219 1919.

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