Of all the many commitments made by the Belgian energy pact in 2018, the phasing-out of nuclear power by 2025 is no doubt the measure that causes the strongest feelings.

Behind the decision is the European target of obtaining all energy supplies from renewable sources by 2050. A scenario at the heart of the energy transition – equally celebrated by its backers and disputed by its critics – that will be decisive for the future of the Belgian energy sector.

The problems with a nuclear phase-out in Belgium

Belgium’s nuclear power plants currently account for a third of the country’s electricity production (a little under 6 GW) and half of all the energy produced in the Belgian energy mix. The thermal capacity required in order to get by without nuclear energy is thus estimated at 3.6 GW.

According to the electricity transmission network operator Elia, whichever scenario is chosen, new thermal plants burning high-carbon fossil fuels (gas, oil, coal) will have to be built to ensure security of supply without increasing Belgium’s energy dependency.

Nuclear power plant – thermal power plant - Energyprice

For Damien Ernst, an energy specialist at ULiège, producers’ investments in these gas-powered plants will have a major financial and environmental cost. Because as well as increasing energy bills, the announced plant closures would lead to many job losses.

So can we really hope to achieve European targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining a secure energy supply and stable prices in Belgium?

What are the arguments for phasing out nuclear by 2025?

For proponents of a nuclear phase-out by 2025, such as federal representative and leader of the Green group Jean-Marc Nollet, the answer is yes!And they have no shortage of arguments and alternatives:

  • The development of renewable onshore, offshore and solar energy sources could provide the missing 3.6 GW;
  • The development of renewable energy would create four times more jobs per MWh than nuclear;
  • Ultimately, the production of low-carbon electricity would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet the targets set by Europe;
  • Upgrading a nuclear power plant (or building a new reactor) costs more than dismantling it;
  • Belgium is seeing growth in renewable energy, including a rising proportion of intermittent sources (solar and wind), within Belgian energy generation;
  • The additional energy injected into the grid by small private producers could contribute to security of supply;
  • The cost of renewable energy has fallen steadily and spectacularly (wind energy is cheaper than nuclear energy);

Finally, it should not be forgotten that:

  • Nuclear power is not a clean source of energy because radioactive waste storage is harmful for the environment;
  • In the event of a nuclear incident, all of Belgium together with the Netherlands, Germany, France and Luxembourg would be affected.

The solution is thus to make up part of the electricity shortage by improving energy efficiency, increasing storage capacity (enabling better use of surplus household generation), and developing renewable sources, which will create jobs and guarantee security of supply.

Wind turbines – renewable energy - Energyprice

What will the impact be on the energy bills of Belgian consumers?

According to a study quoted by the energy minister, Marie-Christine Marghem, phasing out nuclear power would only cost each household €15 excluding VAT per year from 2025. According to N-VA (New Flemish Alliance) representative Bert Wollants, though, the average additional cost would be closer to €50 per household per year.

Both theories are disputed by the Green group, which considers that these budget estimates overstate the cost of the alternatives, underestimate the cost of prolonging reactor life and take no account of the economic cost of the nuclear risk.

For Jean-Marc Nollet, “Phasing out nuclear by 2025 is necessary and possible, with no major impact on our greenhouse gas emissions or on bills.” It would even be the cheapest solution. As long as effective policies and measures are put in place immediately, of course!

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