By Annisa Essack
On Thursday, Belgium’s government announced that it would shut all of its nuclear power plants over the next three years.
The decision was wrangled over for weeks by the 7-party coalition. The Greens insisted that the government adhere to a 2003 law on Belgium’s exit from nuclear power.
As part of a compromise, the country will continue to invest in future technologies that could see smaller plants opened up. However, public broadcasters RTBF and VRT said the country’s francophone liberals wanted the two newest nuclear reactors kept open.
As talks between a core group of ministers carried into Thursday morning, an agreement was reached.
The last existing nuclear power plants will close in 2025 under a 2003 law. The ministers had agreed to invest in “renewable and carbon-neutral energies” — including new-generation nuclear power. That would include channelling funds towards new, smaller modular reactors, which generate less power and are easier to contain in the event of any emergency.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday morning, Prime Minister de Croo said the first objective of the agreement would be to ensure the security of the energy supply.
“Our people and our companies are entitled to that,” he said, adding that the second objective was “to fully opt for innovation.”
“In concrete terms, this means that we will invest in research into newer technologies,” de Croo said, explaining that this included the smaller reactors.
Energy Minister Tinne Van der Straeten from the Greens said the research would focus on sustainable, flexible and carbon-neutral energy sources.
“We already have a lot of expertise in this area in our country. We must now use this expertise so as not to miss the boat. Being early always pays off.”
Neighbouring Germany is set to close all of its nuclear power plants by the end of 2022 after a deal agreed in 2011. That decision followed Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Meanwhile, France derives about 70% of its energy from nuclear power and plans to build more atomic plants.
The Belgian decision comes as the European Commission prepares a so-called EU taxonomy, in which it lists what the bloc considers as “environmentally sustainable economic activities.”
EU member states have been split on the issue, with France leading a bloc that pushes for the “green” label of nuclear energy, while Germany leads one that is opposed to the move.