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Climate and environment are back in Belgium

A bill conditioning the closure of nuclear power plants is continuing its merry way.

A bill conditioning the closure of nuclear power plants is continuing its merry way.

From our correspondent, Max Helleff (Brussels) – The marches for the climate have been stopped by the health crisis. But there is something new: on Sunday, around a hundred rallies will be held across the country, on the eve of the opening of a much-awaited trial in the context of “The Climate Affair”. Each participant will be dressed in black and a white collar, an outfit symbolizing the toga of the climate advocate.

This trial follows the action carried out since 2014 by a citizens’ group which accuses the Belgian state of not respecting its climate objectives. In total, 62,073 people are now co-applicants or supporters of the Climate Affair, which is therefore judged from March 16 in the former NATO premises in Haeren (Brussels).

This should help bring the climate and the environment back to the forefront of the news. The Climate Affair has the merit of being more visible, but also more understandable, than the tribulations of the auction system supposed to allow Belgium to guarantee its energy supply when its nuclear power plants are gradually shut down, between 2022. and 2025.

And yet, what is called the “capacity remuneration mechanism” (CRM) is essential to register the country in the energy transition. Tabled by the Federal Minister of Energy, the Flemish ecologist Tinne Van der Straeten, the bill which frames it has just been adopted at second reading in the House committee, majority against opposition.

At first, we thought that the government majority was going to tear itself apart on this issue. The French-speaking liberals of Georges-Louis Bouchez are indeed divided on the advisability of abandoning the atom. The former Minister of Energy Marie-Christine Marghem nevertheless rallied to the vote, “in solidarity with the majority”. The joint opposition of the French-speaking communists of the PTB and the Flemish nationalists of the N-VA and the Vlaams Belang (far right) was therefore unable to turn the tide.

The capacity remuneration mechanism will aim to provide the country with an adequate supply of electricity. It will have to manage demand, but also electricity production via the construction of new gas-fired power stations. And it will take care not to pass its own cost on to the final consumer’s bill.

When she was part of the former Michel government, Bart De Wever’s N-VA scrapped hard so that each household’s electricity bill did not go up. He made this potential inflation an obstacle to the closure of nuclear power plants. The current De Croo government therefore knows that it will be expected at the turn, this question being very sensitive.

Closure scheduled for 2022

For the time being, Minister Van der Straeten is comforted in her action. To the point of declaring that “in any case, five of the seven nuclear reactors will be closed in the years to come: they are too old, have cracks or require huge security investments of more than one billion euros which are not profitable. ”

In November 2020, Engie announced its intention to stop its projects related to an extension of Belgian nuclear power. He has repeated it since. However, the French group is committed to maintaining its activities related to renewables and gas.

If the schedule is maintained, the first reactor will close in the fall of 2022. Belgium will then resort to renewables, gas-fired power stations and connections with neighboring countries to supply itself with electricity. But nothing says that by then, the nuclear issue will not offer itself some twists and turns.


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