Belgium Joins Countries Opting Out of Nuclear Power

Belgium's political parties reached an agreement earlier this week that will close down the country's two nuclear power plants. The plants, with seven reactors in total, provide more than half of the small country's electricity, according to the International Energy Agency.

Belgium, home to about 11 million people, aims to be totally rid of nuclear power by 2025. According to a report from Reuters, though, the nuclear phase-out is dependent on finding a reasonable source of power as a replacement. This is far from guaranteed; natural gas and coal, along with some renewables, provide the remainder of Belgium's power. According to a European Wind Energy Association report from earlier this year, the country will more than quadruple its wind power installations by 2020, but this will still only provide 10 percent of the total power needs.

This is just the latest policy effect of the shockwaves that continue to emanate from Fukushima, though Belgium had actually planned a nuclear exit long before the Japan earthquake. A law passed in 2003 set the stage, though in 2009 the country agreed to extend the reactors' lifetime for 10 extra years. Now the shutdown will be re-accelerated, again with the caveat of finding new sources. They join others, most notably Germany, that are trying to phase nuclear out of their energy portfolio.

As our Peter Fairley reported for Spectrum's special issue on Fukushima and its effects, Germany plans to shutter its reactors, which provide 28 percent of its power, by 2022. This will raise some tough questions, just as it will in Belgium. And perhaps more relevant to Belgium's situation, Switzerland, another small country getting a big chunk of electricity (39 percent) from nuclear, announced plans in May that it will shutter its five reactors by 2034. As these deadlines approach, each country will undoubtedly make some difficult choices on how to replace nuclear as a power source.

(Image of Tihange Nuclear Power Station via Geoffrey Gilson)

 

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