Belgium announced on Friday that its Doel 3 nuclear reactor will disconnect from the grid and cease operations, even as the country fears blackouts this winter. It is one of four reactors at the Doel plant near the port of Antwerp, and is the first nuclear reactor to shut down in Belgium's plan to exit nuclear power completely.
The move moves even as thousands of Belgians took to the streets on Wednesday to protest soaring electricity prices and high costs of living. In a recent Belgian media poll, 64% of Belgians are concerned that they might not be able to pay their energy bills.
It also comes as Belgium stainless steel maker Aperam was forced to stop production as the high energy prices became untenable.
The decision to shut the reactors was made years ago, well before Europe's energy crisis took hold. In 2011, it was decided to shut Belgian's oldest reactors by 2015, and the rest by 2025. At that time, nuclear energy accounted for over half of the nation's power consumption. In addition, under Belgium law, nuclear reactors have to stop producing electricity 40 years after installation, although some reactors in the country have been afforded extensions. While the Federal Interior Minister called for an extension for Doel 3, it was not granted.
The plan for Belgium's nuclear power exit, hatched in 2011, was supposed to be contingent on finding enough energy from alternative sources to prevent power shortages.
The shutdowns are set to continue after Doel 3. In February, Belgium is planning to shutter Tihange 2-a nuclear reactor that has the unfortunate distinction of being located near the German border where nuclear power is decidedly out of favor, and as such, has found itself the target of activists.
For Belgium, the energy situation is dire. Earlier this week, Bart De Wever, Antwerp mayor and leader of the nationalist New Flemish Alliance party, said that Europe's crisis could not be pinned on Putin. Instead, the crisis is one "that Europe has brought on itself by phasing out its own primary energy production this century."
By Julianne Geiger for Oilprice.com
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Julianne Geiger is a veteran editor, writer and researcher for Oilprice.com, and a member of the Creative Professionals Networking Group. More