Nuclear: the week of the last chance

Nuclear: the week of the last chance

The countdown will end its race at the last twelve strokes of midnight of 2022. The federal government has locked itself into this agenda: to complete an agreement with Engie, on the extension of nuclear power for this December 31.

The countdown has been on since last summer. The principle acquired since the spring.

The reversals of MR and especially Ecolo

In 2003, the coalition led by Guy Verhofstadt (in which we already found socialists, liberals and ecologists) pronounced the end of nuclear energy in Belgium for… 2015. Problem: the following governments have done almost nothing to replace this energy that provides half of Belgium’s electricity. Consequence: the extension of the reactors with a final shutdown established in 2025, with massive use of gas-fired power plants to compensate, the time to develop renewable energies. This is the doctrine concreted under the government led by Charles Michel.

The current federal government when it was installed in 2020 confirmed this scenario, leaving itself however a possible opening “just in case”. And this is where the MR Bouchez version took the opposite course to the MR Michel version, favoring nuclear rather than gas and the soaring prices due to the post-covid recovery and especially the war in Ukraine were going to give substance to this ambition.

Faced with the situation, the ecologists themselves ended up admitting that the nuclear option had to be maintained. All this now placed Engie, who is less and less interested in the atom, in a position of strength.

Complicated negotiations

Indeed, after telling the French multinational that its power plants no longer interested it, the Belgian government had to beg for a 10-year extension to avoid a power outage from 2026. All this against the backdrop of the taxation of excess profits from ‘Engie, the delicate management of radioactive waste and the exorbitant cost of dismantling old reactors. Billions of euros are at stake and politicians are not really in a position of strength. Several factors come into play:

– Last March, we opted for the extension of the two most recent reactors (Doel 4 and Tihange 3) but we would then see that there remained a supply “problem” for the winter of 2025-26, the time bring these reactors back into conformity. At the end of March, the CEO of Engie Belgium, Thierry Saegeman, had warned that the government’s late decision to extend the newest nuclear power plants means that they will not be ready until 2027. They will also probably have to be shut down between 2025 and 2027 for adaptation work, had- he warned. In addition, the extension will likely require a public inquiry that will extend to Belgium’s neighboring countries. A procedure which takes months and which also compromises the security of the electricity supply such as the construction of compensatory gas power stations, subject to building permits… to be negotiated with the Regions. The Flemish government (under N-VA influence) is already putting pressure.

Since 2008, the state has taken part of Engie’s profits. Every year, when paying, the energy company grimaces. This year, in view of the profits, a record collection is expected. But this time, faced with political demands, Engie finds itself in a position of strength to negotiate, intends to take advantage of it and thus sets its conditions. The dispute this year would relate to 300 million €.

– It is also planned that legally, Engie contributes in order to feed a fund supposed to support the very expensive dismantling of old reactors. Doel 3 is decommissioned, Tihange 2 will follow shortly. But the cost of dismantling will amount to billions of euros and the question of burying the waste has not even been considered yet! In its latest and very recent update, the Commission des Provisions Nucléaires increased the sum to be demanded from Engie to €3.3 billion, which is already contesting this new increase.

Negotiations are therefore continuing for the last week. It is still a question of achieving a partnership between Engie and the Belgian State to become co-shareholders of the extended reactors. On the table: the creation of a mixed company where each would hold 50% of the shares, each sharing the investments in the extension works, as well as the (possible) profits as well as the operating risks until 2035. agree…

#Nuclear #week #chance

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