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article imageBelgium parliament agrees to complete phase-out of nuclear power

By Andrew Reeves     Oct 31, 2011 in Politics
Brussels - Belgium's coalition government has agreed on a conditional exit strategy to wean the European nation off domestically-generated nuclear power by 2025.
Belgium's coalition government has agreed to phase out its use of nuclear power by 2025. After a decision was reached in 2003 to extend the lifespan of Belgium's seven nuclear reactors at two nuclear plants by ten years, the latest Belgian government opted to set a stricter time line by which to phase-out the two plants.
The two Belgian nuclear plants are operated by Electrabel, which is a part of GDF-Suez. GDF-Suez saw their stock share fall by 5 per cent on Monday after Sunday's decision by the Belgian government.
Under the new time line, three of the oldest reactors will be taken offline as of 2015, leaving the country with ten years to find alternative energy sources large and consistent enough to replace the energy currently generated by nuclear power by 2025.
The International Energy Agency reported in 2009 that Belgium draws roughly 55 per cent of its total energy from nuclear. And according to the BBC, "Belgium will need to replace 5,860 megawatts of power if it is to go ahead with the nuclear phase-out."
The Belgians are giving themselves ten years to find adequate replacements for the 55 per cent nuclear power they currently rely on, although they don't have to look far to find inspiration for how to make the switch to renewable energy, and examples of what has and has not worked for their neighbours.
In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in March, 2011, Germany became the largest nation on earth to announce a complete nuclear exit strategy by 2022 for the country of 81.8M people.
In the past decade, Germany has seen the percentage of its power drawn by renewable energy sources rise from 1 percent to 17, and the country has embraced a target of 35 per cent by 2020, five years before Belgium needs to reach a similar target to avoid energy shortfalls.
And while Germany has a head start over Belgium (and most of the world) in the race towards sustainable energy, Chris Turner writes in The Leap: How to Survive and Thrive in the Sustainable Economy that "solar capacity [in Germany] has grown at least 220 per cent faster than predicted" in the years leading up to 2008.
He adds that
Just before Angela Merkel's election as German chancellor in 2005, she dismissed plans for a 20 per cent share from renewables by 2020 as 'unrealistic.' She soon unveiled plans to build twenty-six new coal plants to make up for the forecasted shortfall as nuclear plants came offline. The vast majority of these plants are now on hold...or have been scrapped entirely.
The German feed-in-tariff system has become the de rigueur model for any jurisdiction in the world looking to take advantage of micro and macro renewable energy generation, while the Dutch and Germans have demonstrated the success to be had by embracing a wholesale, rather than piecemeal, approach to renewable energy over coal and nuclear power.
But for the Belgians, the question remains whether they can create the infrastructure in time to meet the current demand by 2025 when the nuclear plants come offline. "The question is," notes Johan Albrecht, an analyst of environmental and energy policy at the Itinera think tank in Belgium, "is the replacement capacity ready by 2015?" And Albrecht tells Reuters that "according to the Belgian energy regulator CREG it won't be."
The success of the European economy and a speedy resolution to the recent Euro-zone crisis will also be critical factors in Belgium's successful phase-out of nuclear power. Production of alternative energy infrastructure for wind and solar power, for example, rely on a strong and stable economic situation, something difficult to imagine in Europe at this time.
"Should we fall back into recession, industrial demand for electricity declines and you have a better margin to take capacity off the grid, if the economy performs well it's harder to reduce capacity," Albrecht said.
Belgium is fortunate to find strong and positive examples of the benefits of a sustainable energy economy so close to home, although the German and Dutch models also provide lessons to be learned. The deadline for replacing upwards of 55 per cent of energy demands without having to build coal-fired generating plants to meet any potential energy shortfall is only 14 years away. And while Germany has made considerable strides towards a sustainable energy future in the past decade and a half, the Belgians have no time to lose.
More about Belgium, Nuclear power, Alternative energy, Germany, fukishima nuclear plant
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