« Vivaldi », a denuclearized coalition?

« The legal timetable for nuclear phase-out will be respected, as planned ». At the end of November 2021, a report will be produced. If he  » shows that there is an unexpected security of supply issue, the Government will take appropriate measures such as adjusting the legal schedule for up to 2 GW of capacity. This is stated in the report of the trainers of the new government of September 30, 2020, formed by a coalition of seven parties called « Vivaldi ». This wording is wickedly reminiscent of the 2003 law on nuclear phase-out, which authorized the extension of the seven reactors from 30 to 40 years while « ensuring » their closure at the end of these 40 years, a closure stated in terms similar to those of the Vivaldi report. We know what happened: due to the laxity of successive governments, this 2003 law led to the extension of the T1 reactor by 10 years in 2012 under the Di Rupo government and of the D1 and D2 reactors in 2015 under the Michel government.

Of course, the energy and political context is very different today than it was in 2003:

  • Since 2012, the nuclear industry has repeatedly demonstrated its unreliability. Indeed, its utilization rate has dropped from 90–94% before 2012 to an average of 70% (it had been 94% in 1999). It should be remembered that nuclear power has priority over all other sectors and that reactors always produce at their maximum capacity at any given time, even if it means, for example, shutting down off-shore wind turbines or selling at a loss on the international market in case of excess production.
  • Neither the extension of two reactors in 2025 nor the CRM(1) is an absolute necessity as it appears in the CREG memorandum(2) of July 9, 2020 to the attention of the formator for the federal government. Concretely, this was illustrated by the fact that from September 1 to December 15, 2018 the capacity of the nuclear power plants did not exceed 2 GW and even GW (only 1 reactor in operation) for 1 month from October 14, but at no time was Belgium threatened with a blackout or even partial load shedding. Better still, at any given time, the reserve capacity was at least 3.7 GW, almost half of which was domestic capacity: Belgium could therefore have done without all of its reactors during this entire period.
  • This need for extension and/or MRC is based on the Transmission System Operator’s (Elia) 2019 Adequacy Study(3) which unfortunately was not updated in 2020 to correct its biases, despite the request of members of the federal administration and political parties(4).
  • Deciding in November 2021 to extend two reactors would be too late according to Engie, which invokes the 18 to 24 month delay necessary to carry out the environmental impact study(5) 30 to 36 months to prepare a reactor for an extension, with the impact study and the work to be completed before the shutdown date provided for in the 2003 law (July 1, 2025 for D4 and September 1, 2025 for T3)(6)This makes a total delay of 4 to 5 years. One might think that Engie is putting some ill will into it and would like to finally be rid of the Belgian reactors: indeed, in June 2018, Isabelle Kocher, Engie’s number 2 at the time, had tried to sell them to EDF, that « nest of trouble for Engie » as one French industry executive had called them(7). But, on the one hand, Engie had asked for a clear position on the extension before the end of 2020, and on the other hand, the deadline could well be longer than said, taking into account the appeals that could be lodged following the impact study, which would seem to make the mission impossible right now. This can only delight those who have understood that it is not possible to ensure the country’s electricity supply on the basis of reactors that, year after year, demonstrate their lack of reliability, and the economic and energy aberration of extending obsolete reactors that have largely exceeded their initial life span(8). Not to mention the risk incurred in view of a not at all improbable accident and the management of high-level and long-lived waste without a solution.
  • Last but not least, the new Minister of Energy, Tinne Van der Straeten, is a member of the Flemish Green Party (Groen). Would Écolo and Groen accept an extension of two reactors in 2025 at the risk of seeing their voters abandon them in numbers?

Everyone knows today that a strong program of energy savings, especially in electricity, and non-renewable resources is essential to meet climate targets and prepare for future shortages. However, this is the poor relation of the new government’s agreement, which, for example, intends to push for the deployment of 5G, which will result in an increase in the country’s electricity consumption of more than 2%, but also a substantial growth in the consumption of other energy resources and metals(9) («  The Federal Government will hold the 5G auction as soon as possible, » page 70 of the formers’ report). It is possible that the final closure of the reactors will take place in 2025, but it is certain that this government is taking the country down a path that more and more citizens see as a dead end.

Notes et références
  1. CRM : mécanisme de rémunération de capacité, un mécanisme qui doit permettre de subsidier la construction de nouvelles centra­les à gaz. Le CRM belge, concocté avec une lenteur qui pose question par la ministre de l’Énergie précédente, doit encore recevoir l’approbation de la Commission européenne, ce qui devrait encore prendre près d’un an. Bien sûr, le gouvernement belge pourrait décider de ne pas attendre la Commission s’il y avait urgence (construire une nouvelle centrale à gaz devrait prendre environ 3 ans).
  2. CREG : Commission de Régulation de l’Électricité et du Gaz, l’organisme fédéral pour la régulation des marchés de l’électricité et du gaz naturel en Belgique.
  3. Adéquation entre la capacité d’approvisionnement en électricité et la demande.
  4. Elia, le gestionnaire du réseau de transport d’électricité à haute tension belge (30 000 à 400 000 volts), est une entreprise privée dont le bénéfice net était de 216,6 millions d’euros en 2017 (Belgique et Allemagne). N’est-il pas surprenant que cette société privée ait la prééminence sur la CREG pour conseiller le gouvernement sur ces questions de planification, comme démontré tout au long de la législature précédente sous la houlette de la ministre Marghem ?
  5. Contrairement aux précédentes prolongations de réacteurs, suite à l’avis rendu par la Cour de justice de l’Union européenne en 2019 à propos de la prolongation des réacteurs D1 et D2, le gouvernement ne pourra plus « échapper » à cette étude d’incidence en respect de la convention d’Espoo sur l’évaluation de l’impact sur l’environnement dans un contexte transfrontière et la convention d’Aarhus sur la participation du public en matière d’environnement.
  6. Remarquons au passage que ces travaux réduiront encore le taux d’utilisation des réacteurs.
  7. Le Canard Enchaîné du 26 septembre 2018.
  8. La leçon du réacteur D1 n’a pas suffi : en effet, en avril 2018, après la prolongation de son exploitation de 40 à 50 ans, ce réacteur a été arrêté pendant 11 mois en raison d’une fuite dans le circuit d’eau de refroidissement primaire, un « incident » qui de plus aurait pu avoir des conséquences graves.
  9. « Impact du déploiement de la 5G sur la consommation de l’énergie et le climat », Kairos nº 46, octobre 2020.

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