Flemish Energy Minister Zuhal Demir has called on the federal government to prioritise energy supply during the current European energy crisis and avoid cutting off important supplies of electricity. Namely, the minister has asked the government to consider extending the operation of Belgium’s Doel 3 and Tihange 2 nuclear power plants.
“Necessity knows no law, but of course, it must be done in a safe way,” she told Radio 1 on 14 July.
Under current federal plans, the two nuclear reactors are set to be fully closed by 2023. The original plans intended a temporary transition to electricity from gas-fired power plants, however with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and international sanctions against Russian energy imports, these plans have become economically implausible.
Demir states that Europe is currently facing the biggest energy crisis since the Second World War. “Russia has turned off the gas tap and there is war in Ukraine. Therefore, we must ensure that we have enough energy,” she said.
There have been repeated calls to allow the Flanders government to make up its own mind about whether to decommission the nuclear sites. In an interview in February, Antwerp Mayor and New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) Leader Bert De Wever said that Flanders should make the choice about whether to keep the plants, noting that all Flemish parties, with the exception of the Greens, believe that the power stations should remain open.
“If French-speaking Belgium blocks this scenario, then it must be decided that the competence for energy supply will be regionalised,” De Wever said.
Avoiding winter shortages
There is already precedent for the extension of nuclear power production. The Doel 4 and Tihange 3 reactors were extended for ten years in March following a government U-turn over uncertainty in the energy market. The two reactors will continue to provide the country with 2 gigawatts of electricity, which will power around 1.5 million homes.
Like many other European countries, Belgium has an emergency federal energy plan which allows for greater intervention in the event of natural gas shortages. “This plan provides that large consumers must consume less energy and that electricity must be cut off,” said Demir. “80% of these large consumers are in Flanders. This concerns the Flemish economy, as well as many families.”
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In order to ensure that the plan need not be activated, the energy minister is calling on the Federal Government to consider “all the options we have in the country.” For many, nuclear energy is an obvious means to alleviate the crisis, as it is more environmentally friendly than using gas or coal as a stop-gap.
“The law on phasing out nuclear power was passed, but in the meantime the world has changed. We are entering winter and we cannot afford to activate the Federal emergency plan,” Demir stated.
If the plans were to be activated, Demir notes, it would mean the layoff of many workers, both in Flanders and the rest of Belgium. “We also know what international energy prices mean for our bills. Less energy means the bills skyrocket,” she concluded.