Over the last weeks, pro-nuclear politicians in Belgium have launched an attack in the media against the law which phases out nuclear power. This law, passed in 2003, would shut down the seven reactors one after the other when they reach the end of their 40-year lifetimes, starting in 2015.
The Christian-Democrats are now speaking out in favour of a lifetime extension, calling it 'inevitable', while still accepting the principle of a phase-out in the longer term. Otherwise – they claim – the electricity bills for households would double and the lights would go out. Those not accepting what is inevitable are defined as 'ideological'. Well, let's see about that.
Apart from all the problems with nuclear power - being dangerous and polluting - which the Christian-Democrats now try to minimise, they seem to ignore the simple fact that there is no experience with reactors of that age. Believing the nuclear utility Suez-GDF's claims that a 60-year lifetime is feasible will not be enough to keep them running in the real world. Looking around, we see an increase of serious incidents with ageing reactors. In the UK, Sweden, Germany and Spain, reactors have been shut down for months or years due to technical problems, making them increasingly unreliable, not to mention the increased risk to the population. For Belgium, being dependent on ageing nuclear reactors for 55% of its electricity, this does not look bright.
What about the costs? A look at what the market offers today might be interesting: green electricity suppliers are cheaper today than the dirty mixture of nuclear power and coal from Suez. Thus a clever housemother dumps Suez and shifts to green electricity: saving money and the environment. Also at the macro-economic level, they don't make sense. What they actually propose is to invest less in modern efficient or renewable electricity plants. It’s like saying let’s stop investing in the railway system, we will save a lot of money and can offer cheap tickets. But – as you can imagine - a few years later, electricity cables start to break, trains get delayed and the whole system derails. It will cost loads of money to get this corrected - it’s just a short-sighted approach.
The sad thing is that there is only one party winning with the Christian-Democrats' proposal: the private utility Suez-GDF. This French utility, partly owned by the French state, uses Belgium as a milking cow: making large profits in the short-term with their old nuclear and coal plants to finance coal plants in Germany or the Netherlands, or maybe a new nuclear plant in France. If the Belgian electricity system breaks down in 10 years, so be it: the money will be gone, and the shareholders of Suez-GDF will be happy. We can doubt that our Belgian politicians – who have demonstrated their excellence over the last year to the world - even understand the dirty game they are playing. Well, at least Greenpeace is offering them some basic education.
(This is a guest post from Jan Vande Putte, Greenpeace International nuclear campaigner)