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Belgium looks to extend lives of oldest nuclear reactors

February 3, 2023

The Belgian government is assessing whether to extend the life of three nuclear reactors that had been due to close in 2025, citing a need to "reduce risks in the energy supply" in lieu of the war in Ukraine.

Illustration picture shows the nuclear plants site in Tihange, Monday 24 January 202
Tihange lies close to the German borderImage: Eric Lalmand/BELGA MAG/AFP/Getty Images

Belgium's government has ordered an assessment into whether the country's three oldest nuclear reactors could be kept online for an extra two years in light of the energy crisis affecting Europe.

The government is set to ask the operator Engie whether it would be possible to keep the plants Tihange 1 and Doel 1 and 2, which were opened in 1975, running until 2027 rather than shutting them down in 2025 as planned.

"The war in Ukraine and the problems in the French nuclear energy sector have made us look at ways to create more certainty and reduce risks in the energy supply," Energy ministry spokesman Jonas Dutordoir said. "This could be part of the solution."

Operational since 1975, the three reactors were initially set to be decommissioned in 2015 but had their lifetime extended until 2025 after Belgium held a review of its phase-out plan.

A delayed phase-out

Belgium has two nuclear plants, operated by French utility company Engie, with five reactors still working.

Belgium first decided on its nuclear phase-out in 2003 and it was scheduled to be completed by 2025. However, it decided last year to keep the newest plants open until 2035.

Belgium took one nuclear reactor, Tihange 2, off its power grid after 40 years on Tuesday evening as part of the country's planned nuclear phase-out. The winding down of nuclear power began with the closure of a reactor at Doel, near the Belgian port city of Antwerp in September. 

Those two reactors were known for repeated safety issues, having been shut down on previous occasions after the discovery of cracks in reactor pressure vessels. The Belgian government had considered keeping those two reactors online because of energy concerns. 

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Before the reactors were shut down, Belgium had relied on nuclear power for about half of the country's energy needs.

The German government and the German city of Aachen, which lies near the Belgian border have repeatedly called for the reactors to be decommissioned in the past.

In 2019, the European Court of Justice found that Belgium infringed European Union law by failing to carry out the required environmental assessments before prolonging the life of Doel 1 and 2 nuclear reactors.

rc/jcg (AFP, Reuters, dpa)