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Belgium, the last European country to start phasing out nuclear power


At the heart of the energy crisis which is hitting Europe hard, the closure of a reactor is subject to controversy in the kingdom. As part of its plan to exit from atomic energy, Belgium is shutting down one of the four reactors at the Doel power plant on Friday, September 23, located in the Scheldt estuary near the port of Antwerp.

About forty years old, the infrastructure bears the brunt of the energy transition decided in 2003 in the “flat country”. This planning provides for the definitive closure of Belgium’s seven reactors by 2036. Half of the country’s electricity production comes from nuclear power and the Doel 3 reactor alone provided 10% of production.

Aftermath of Fukushima

But the context of exploding energy prices and the closing of the Russian gas tap are prompting Belgian leaders to be cautious. Last week, the Minister of the Interior created controversy by asking for the postponement of the dismantling of the reactor, in case a restart is envisaged in the future. Other voices are rising in the country for the maintenance of nuclear power, for fear of shortages, to which critics from the environmental ranks respond.

The debate in Belgium is unmistakably similar to that which agitates Germany, dependent on Russian gas, seven months after the start of the war in Ukraine. Across the Rhine, conservatives and liberals are worried about shortages and are calling for the extension of three reactors.

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German leaders have historically shown great distrust of nuclear energy. In 2002, at the instigation of social democrats and ecologists, the “atomic law” set the maximum age of a reactor at 32 years and prohibited the construction of any new power station. The Fukushima accident in 2011 further heightened fear of the atom in Germany. Shortly after the events, Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that she wanted “the energy of the future is safer” : the shutdown of all reactors is brought forward to 2022.

Spain and Switzerland, the output for 2035

In Switzerland, the fears generated by the Fukushima accident also precipitated the phase-out of nuclear power. In May 2011, while Germany ratified the end of the atom within its borders, the Swiss Federal Council refused the extension of its power plants and established an age limit of 50 years, without however closing the door. to the construction of new generation reactors.

In 2017, the Swiss adopted by 58% of the votes in a referendum the planned and definitive exit from nuclear power (which provides nearly a third of the country’s electricity) by 2035 in favor of renewable energies. With the aim of developing renewable energies, Spain also intends to phase out nuclear power by 2035.

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In Italy, the Savoy atom

Although Italy turned its back on nuclear energy several decades ago, it imports a significant part of its electricity from France, where it represents 70% of production. In 1987, a year after the explosion of Chernobyl reactor no. 4, the Italian government decided to close the country’s four power plants early.

The last reactor was shut down in 1990. Despite Silvio Berlusconi’s intention to resume construction of a power plant in 2008, the Fukushima accident put an end to the Cavaliere project: in 2011, the Italians rejected by referendum 90% the resumption of a nuclear program.

In Lithuania, it is the shadow of the Chernobyl disaster that is behind the dismantling of power stations. The Baltic country had inherited from the Soviet era two RBMK type reactors (identical to those of the infamous Ukrainian power station) in the Ignalina power station. During the process of Lithuania’s integration into the European Union (EU), Brussels sets up as a sine qua non for Vilnius’ accession the dismantling of these two reactors in exchange for the assumption of costs by the EU. . They will be arrested in 2009 and 2014 respectively.

In addition to those returning from nuclear power, many European states have never used this source of energy, such as Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Croatia, Greece, Moldova, Portugal, Montenegro, Albania or Latvia.

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