Court ruling could close Doel nuclear reactors earlier

Sunday, March 8, 2020

A ruling by the Constitutional Court could mean the nuclear power stations Doel 1 and Doel 2 have to close down earlier than the government planned.

The Court this week struck down a law passed in 2015 which extended the lifetime of the reactors by ten years. The case was brought by two environmental organisations, Bond Beter Leefmilieu (BBL) and Inter-Environnement Wallonie.

The two reactors came into service in 1975, and should have closed in 2015. But to fill the requirements of the electricity industry at the time, a law was passed extending the lifetime of the reactors for ten years.

However, the Court ruled, that law is unconstitutional, as it required an environmental assessment report be carried out, which never happened. That effectively suspends the 2015 law, but the court said it would allow it to remain in force until the end of 2022.

The government must now organise the lengthy procedure to take place of commissioning an environmental assessment report and the public enquiry procedure that goes with it. It must then pass a new law through the various stages in parliament.

If that is not completed by the end of 2022, the two reactors will have to close down then, three years earlier than planned.

To make matters more complicated still, the government also needs to enter into talks with the Dutch authorities, since Doel – an abandoned village on the estuary of the Scheldt river in the municipality of Beveren in East Flanders – is a stone’s throw from the border with the Netherlands.

Engie Electrabel, which operates the reactors, stated simply that it had taken note of the court’s decision, and pointed out that the company has already invested €700 million to keep the two reactors operating. It was not up to the federal energy minister to make sure the situation was in order.

Minister Marie-Christine Marghem said the judgement was a confirmation that the reactors need to stay open longer, since the court chose not to suspend operations immediately.

For BBL, Mathias Bienstman told the VRT, “The Constitutional Court has asked for an environmental report to be produced as quickly as possible, because otherwise the nuclear power plants are operating illegally.”

Marghem, meanwhile, attacked the environmental organisations for bringing the case.

“Thanks to the environmental organisations, we will now systematically have to spend millions of euros more every time we want to prolong the operation of a new gas or nuclear powered generating facility,” she said.

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