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Engie threatens to disconnect Belgium

The French energy company is raising the pressure less than four years before the scheduled end of the Belgian atom.

Max HELLEFF

Max HELLEFF

The French energy company is raising the pressure less than four years before the scheduled end of the Belgian atom.

From our correspondent Max HELLEFF (Brussels) – Info or intox ? The French group Engie says it wants to put an end to Belgian nuclear power. “Following the announcement of the Belgian government in the fourth quarter of 2020, it was decided to stop all the preparatory work that would have allowed a 20-year extension of two units beyond 2025, as it seems unlikely that such an extension can take place given the technical and regulatory constraints, ”said Catherine MacGregor, the boss of Engie.

Engie’s 2020 accounts were weighed down by some 2.9 billion euros corresponding to the group’s Belgian nuclear assets. Its net loss reached 1.5 billion in 2020, compared to a profit of 1 billion in 2019.

This announcement is yet another twist. Belgium, let us remember, decided almost twenty years ago to shut down its power plants in 2025. But the closer the fateful date approaches, the less certain it is that the promises of the past will be able to be kept. 50% of the kingdom’s electricity is indeed produced from nuclear power and, for lack of an alternative, it is difficult to see how its supply could be guaranteed.

Tihange and Doel arrested

One of the options was to ask Engie to keep the oldest reactors alive beyond 2025. But for that, it would be necessary to invest in renovation and compliance costs, investments that the French energy company intends. of course to improve in the long term.

Problem: In 2020, the De Croo government announced that the deadlines set in the past would be met. The Tihange (Huy) and Doel (Antwerp) reactors should thus be gradually shut down between November 2022 and December 2025. If – and only if – this is not possible due to a risk of an electricity shortage, then an extension equivalent to 2GW can be decided.

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo is playing the watch. Last October, to lock down his coalition, he needed the French-speaking and Flemish Greens. These fierce nuclear opponents have obtained promises in return and do not intend to let go. They will hold out until it is demonstrated that Belgium cannot do without nuclear power altogether. In the meantime, they are putting pressure so that other forms of electricity production are finally put in place.

Belgium is in a difficult situation. To obtain supplies, without nuclear power, it risks having no other choice but to turn to importing electricity. But the international energy market promises to be tense, with other European countries also having to review their own production capacity in the light of agreements made under the aegis of the EU for the reduction of greenhouse gases.

A cross-border study

Engie has the cards in hand. In November, the group sounded the alarm for the first time by announcing the end of projects linked to an extension of Belgian nuclear power. The final decision should have been made a few weeks later, which was not the case. However, Engie is committed to maintaining its activities related to renewables and gas in Belgium.

Finally, if a peace of the brave were to intervene between the De Croo government and the energy company, it would not be enough to restart the machine. The federal nuclear agency requires that any renovation work on the power plants be carried out in accordance with post-Fukushima safety standards. The bill will be salty. As for the Constitutional Court, it requests that a cross-border environmental impact study be established before considering an extension.


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