'Mission accomplished': Belgium signs off its nuclear energy future

'Mission accomplished': Belgium signs off its nuclear energy future
Aerial drone picture shows the nuclear central of Tihange, along La Meuse river, Tuesday 23 April 2019, in Tihange. Credit: Belga / Eric Lalmand

After 19 months of negotiations between the Belgian State and the operator of Belgium's nuclear power stations, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and Energy Minister Tinne Van der Straeten concluded negotiations with Engie-Electrabel on Wednesday.

The agreement passes into law proposals to extend the lifespan of Belgium's two youngest reactors, Doel 4 and Tihange 3, by ten years. The final discussions between the ministers and Engie-Electrabel CEO Thierry Saegeman started on Tuesday evening and continued into the night. It involves eight contracts, three laws and a royal decree, comprising over 1,000 pages in total.

The contracts will now be sent to the European Commission, while the legal texts will be reviewed by the Council of State before being forwarded to the parliament.

Addressing media on Wednesday morning, De Croo expressed his satisfaction with the landmark decision, saying it marks a major step by the Vivaldi coalition taken in the face of consecutive crises: the pandemic, the Ukraine conflict, and surging energy prices.

Tweet translation: Belgium remains a nuclear nation. The agreement signed with the Engie Group to prolong Doel 4 and Tihange 3 will safeguard affordable energy for our homes and SMEs, as well as reduce CO2 emissions.

Alongside nuclear, the government has also validated criteria for a tender extension for onshore wind energy production capacity in the North Sea, which Van der Straeten says will be tripled. "For too long, there has been no energy policy in this country. That has now fundamentally changed. This government is taking control of energy, both now and for the decades ahead," she stressed.

“This agreement allows our country to remain a nuclear nation and anchor nuclear knowledge in our country,” De Croo noted.

Other MPs also celebrated the agreement, which has not always received political support across the board. Deputy Prime Minister David Clarnival (MR), hailed the milestone as "Mission accomplished". He added by expressing hopes for Belgium to become a pioneer in small modular reactors – a new technology into which the government has invested €100 million.

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