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Europe

No More Nuclear Plants for Belgium

In a surprising step, the Belgian cabinet has approved a bill to phase out the country’s nuclear power plants by the year 2025.

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Belgium will follow Germany in phasing out its nuclear power plants.

On Friday Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt announced that his cabinet would submit a controversial bill to parliament to shut down all the nation’s nuclear reactors by 2025. Following Sweden and Germany, Belgium is now the third European country to make such a move.

"We are going to proceed with the closure of nuclear plants between 2015 and 2025," Verhofstadt told a news conference. "It is a balanced and realistic decision."

The bill, proposed by Secretary of State for Energy Olivier Deleuze, has been a long time in the planning and is the result of a pledge made by Verhofstadt when he took office three years ago.

If put into law, the nuclear power bill would phase out the nation’s seven reactors over the next 20 years and prohibit the construction of new ones.

But when the bill goes up before the Belgian parliament it is sure to meet with a great deal of debate, as many Belgians are skeptical of completely doing away with nuclear power, a source of energy they have come to rely heavily upon.

Nearly 60 percent of the Belgium’s electricity comes from nuclear reactors, making it the country most dependent on nuclear power after France. Coal and natural gas are the second most common energy sources. Alternative forms of power make up only a negligible amount of the country’s energy.

Verhofstadt said the government would have to direct more efforts towards developing alternative energy sources in order to compensate for the expected loss of nuclear power. Energy conservation would also be strongly encouraged, he said.

Leaving a loophole open, the prime minister said that if Belgium’s energy supply is seriously threatened at any time, the government would be able to bypass the law.

Not enough energy

The weariness of eliminating nuclear power plants was reinforced by a study published on Friday showing that alternative energy sources such as wind and hydro power would not meet all of Belgium’s electricity demands in the near future. Currently only about 10 percent of electricity is generated through wind power.

The daily newspaper "La Libre Belgique" cited an expert on Friday who said that in the future Belgium would rely on natural gas for 85 percent of the country’s energy needs. Such a heavy dependence on a single energy source would make the 10 million population over-reliant on imports and hence vulnerable to fluctuating prices.

Thus, the government’s bill raises concerns among the Belgian people that energy prices would rise dramatically if nuclear power is phased out.

Belgium’s hesitancy is the same as that faced elsewhere in Europe where nuclear power meets about a third of the population’s energy needs. The European Energy Commissioner Loyola de Palacio has acknowledged the reluctance of some EU member states to phase out their reactors before finding a reliable alternative.

Sweden, for example has delayed the closure of a plant because it has not yet determined how to make up for the loss in energy production.

And in Germany the discussion to shut down nuclear power plants has been an ongoing debate. In 2000 Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s cabinet was successful in coming to an agreement with industry to gradually phase out the country’s 19 operational reactors over the next 25 years. However, opposition leaders and proponents of nuclear power still consider it a risky move to completely do away with nuclear energy.

It is one of the dilemmas of modern Europe. The goal is to go green, to develop alternative forms of energy that protect the environment, and to phase out nuclear power. But the reality is that it all costs money and the current supplies are inadequate to meet the needs of an expanding population. And right now people are neither willing to put up with price hikes, nor are they ready to reduce their energy consumption.

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