Is nuclear power still necessary in Belgium after 2025?
Belgian Engie’s daughter, Electrabel, has a new president: Johnny Thijs. The ex-CEO of Bpost has immediately drawn the attention. In an interview with the newspaper, De Standaard, he says he will be pleading to keep three of the seven nuclear power plants in Belgium open after 2025.
“It is better for CO2 emissions, the electrical energy supply, and the consumer to keep three plants open,” claims Thijs. He says his plead is the result of six months of research. If Belgium closes all its plants in 2025, it will have supply problems and has to compensate with brand new and costly gas power plants.
The green parties in Belgium (Groen and Ecolo) are not amused. “This is not thinking of what is good for the country, it’s trying to realize what is good for Engie/Electrabel,” they say in a reaction. “The proposal is irresponsible, expensive, dangerous, and unreliable.”
“We need ambitious partners that want to look forward and not in the rearview mirror,” says Tinne Van der Straeten, a green MP. “Nuclear plants that are working only half of the time are not a solution for the future.”
“Keeping nuclear power plants open for a longer time will have no positive effect on the electricity price for the consumer,” says Andre Jurres, energy specialist and CEO at Volt Energy. “The electricity price will increase, but that will occur in any case.
“You can build new gas plants or re-invest in nuclear ones; it will always cost a lot of money. The current nuclear plants are 40 years old and not very reliable. It will cost a lot to keep them open after 2025.”
This view is confirmed by Aviel Verbruggen, emeritus professor at the Antwerp University, specialized in nuclear energy. “The price will effectively increase, but that’s because the demand will increase as well. We could save 30 to 40% of our electricity consumption by being more energy-efficient.
Verbruggen sees another danger: “If you keep nuclear plants open longer, they will conflict with sustainable energy sources, like sun, wind, and water. Then it has to be decided who gets priority?”
“At present, nuclear plants still get this priority, making sustainable sources unprofitable. If we wait another 20 years, we won’t have sustainable energy systems at all.”
“And there’s a final but not unimportant problem: what about a nuclear disaster? Nobody wants to insure against Fukushima disasters. The companies who own the nuclear plants are supposing this can’t happen again. They’re wrong. And when something happens, everyone will have to pay a lot.”
Saving energy is the priority
To install Thijs at the helm of Electrabel, his boss had come to Brussels. French Isabelle Kocher is the head of the mother company, Engie, and considered the most powerful woman in France.
“Keeping the plants open for a longer period is part of our new industrial strategy,” says Kocher. “We may have nuclear plants, but we are also the most important producer of renewable energy.”
“We will have to focus on two things in the future: renewable energy and energy-saving. Of our 17.000 employees in Belgium, 11.000 already work on the latter. If we just swop the current electricity production for a renewable one, prices will always be rising.”
If the energy transition is too costly, people will not be able and not willing to pay. That’s why we have to lower our consumption. That’s the cheapest way. We offer energy-saving to our clients, like Uber is selling mobility and not cars.”
And to do this,” concludes Kocher, “and to have as much CO2-free energy as possible, we need a joint action between nuclear and renewable. That’s why we want to keep those plants open. But in the end, it will be the politicians who decide.”