Safety last - misleading public consultation on the lifetime extension of Belgian nuclear reactors

The Belgian Government is about to postpone the nuclear phase out, foreseen by law for 2025, to 2037 in fear of electricity shortages in the winters from 2025 to 2028. Citizens in a range of 1000 km around the reactors are invited to participate in a transboundary public consultation. Belgian environmental NGOs are calling to stick to the Belgian nuclear phase out date by 2025 and are ringing the alarm bell over a misleading consultation.

The two youngest Belgian nuclear reactors, designed for a lifespan of 40 years, are touching their end of life in 2025. Current law foresees a nuclear phase out by then. Yet, the Belgian Government wants to postpone the end of nuclear power production to 2037 in fear of electricity shortages in the winters from 2025 to 2028. 

The transboundary public consultation on the lifespan extension of Doel 4 and Tihange 3 currently underway is presenting this project as a technical affair providing major benefits to the environment and human health. The environmental impact assessment published a month ago is downplaying the dangers of nuclear radiation and drawing a biassed and incomplete picture of what is at stake.

The Belgian environmental NGOs BBL, Canopea and Greenpeace Belgium consider this consultation as misleading. It suggests a simple solution that doesn’t exist. “This project is about a strategic choice to extend the nuclear era in Belgium and not a solution for security of supply issues in the winters after 2025”, says Almut Bonhage, energy policy expert at Bond Beter Leefmilieu. “This consultation is misleading.”

The NGOs are asking to shut down the last two nuclear reactors in 2025. “We recall: nuclear power is not a sustainable energy source. It comes with major safety risks and leaves nuclear waste that no one knows how to deal with”, insists Almut Bonhage. “The risk that nuclear plants are running out of control is growing in a politically unstable world. We have concrete concerns that the lifetime extension of the reactors is not being dealt with in a safe manner.”

The NGOs are ringing the alarm bell over this misleading consultation:

1. The Environmental Impact Assessment is biassed. It is written by SCK CEN, the Belgium research institute for nuclear science. SCK CEN has a manifest conflict of interest. Via the Belgium lobby group Nuclear Forum, it is advocating the lifetime extension of the two reactors. The forum argues that the postponement of nuclear phase out was needed for the future of the nuclear science hub in Belgium. Some decision makers are even pledging to loosen the security rules in order to shorten the procedure.

2. The lifespan extension of the nuclear reactors is not fit for purpose. The goal of the project is to improve security of electricity supply over the years 2025 to 2028. Yet, there is no guarantee that the reactors will actually produce energy when needed: they will not be in operation before 2026 and maybe not earlier than 2027 as of current state of agreements between the Belgian federal government and Engie, the operator of the nuclear power plant. The postponement of the phasing out of nuclear power creates the illusion of supply security and hinders the needed acceleration of the energy transition. 

3. The public consultation is obscure. After more than a year of intense negotiations, there is still no deal between the Belgian government and Engie. Therefore, key questions regarding necessary safety upgrades and ageing management are not considered in the public consultation. They are out of scope of the current Environmental Impact Assessment. A later consultation providing details on the necessary works will have to follow, according to the Belgian nuclear safety watchdog FANC. This procedural context is not provided in the current consultation which is thus leaving citizens, organisations and authorities in confusion.

Read the full BBL position on the public consultation over Doel 4 and Tihange 3

The consultation is running until 20 May 2023 for Belgium and until 20 June 2023 in other countries (radius of 1000 km). Germany, Austria, Luxemburg, The Netherlands and Poland have set up national country pages for the consultation. 

BBL is mobilising citizens, organisations and authorities at national and international level to critically participate in this consultation.

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