Belgian cabinet approves nuclear phase-out bill

Jennifer Laidlaw
Reuters
March 1, 2002

BRUSSELS, March 1 (Reuters) – Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said on Friday that his cabinet would ask parliament to pass a controversial bill to shut down the nation’s nuclear reactors by 2025, emulating similar moves by Sweden and Germany.

“We are going to proceed with the closure of nuclear plants between 2015 and 2025,” he told a news conference after the weekly cabinet meeting. “It is a balanced and realistic decision.”

If put into law, the bill would shut down the nation’s seven plants and prohibit the construction of new ones.

The bill, proposed by Secretary of State for Energy Olivier Deleuze, is the result of a pledge made by Verhofstadt when he took office three years ago.

Belgium gets nearly 60 percent of its electricity from nuclear reactors, making it the country most dependent on nuclear power after France. It uses natural gas and coal to meet the rest of its needs.

SEARCH FOR ALTERNATIVES

Verhofstadt said his government was looking at alternative energy sources to compensate for the expected loss. Energy conservation would also be encouraged, he said.

Should the country’s energy supply be threatened meantime, the government would still be able to bypass the law, he added.

The bill would phase out the reactors after 40 years of use.

Belgium’s first three reactors went into operation between 1974 and 1975 and the other four a decade later.

Divisions within the cabinet, which includes members of the Ecolo and Agalev environmentalist parties, forced it to meet several times earlier in the month to discuss the bill.

The bill had raised concerns that energy prices would rise if nuclear power was phased out.

The daily La Libre Belgique on Friday cited an expert opinion sought by Verhofstadt that foresaw the country relying on natural gas for 85 percent of its energy needs. Such a heavy reliance on a single source was seen as making the country vulnerable to fluctuating gas prices.

But Verhofstadt said he did not think that the decision would lead to a rise in energy prices.

“The only good solution is…to liberalise the sector,” he said.

Belgium’s dilemma is the same as that faced elsewhere in Europe, where nuclear energy meets about a third of its needs.

European Energy Commissioner Loyola de Palacio has acknowledged the reluctance among some countries to phase out their reactors before finding a suitable alternative.

For example, Sweden has delayed the closure of a reactor because it had not figured out how to make up for the loss in power generation.

In 2000, Germany got the industry to agree to gradually phase out the country’s 19 operational reactors over the next 25 years.

(Additional reporting by Gilles Castonguay)

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