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Belgium faces winter blackouts amid nuclear reactor shutdowns

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A forced shutdown of one nuclear reactor in the lead up to winter may be regarded as unfortunate. But the closure of six of the seven reactors responsible for supplying 40% of Belgium’s electricity is raising eyebrows, even in a country so prone to chaotic administration, reported The Guardian (UK).

An emergency “load shedding” plan has been updated, under which motorway lights will be switched off, industrial production suspended and rolling three-hour blackouts launched in homes nationwide should temperatures drop in the coming months and demand outstrip the now limited electricity supply.

Residents have also been warned bills could increase, despite the suggestion that they might need to iron less and use just one pot to cook.

The impending crisis stems from the discovery at the end of last month of “concrete degradation” at the Tihange nuclear power plant, west of Liege, forcing the closure of its three reactors. Unfortunately, three of the four reactors at Belgium’s second nuclear plant, in Doel, near Antwerp, are also out of action due to planned repairs.

A gas-fired power plant belonging to the Bulgarian Energy Market group in Vilvoorde, north of Brussels, has been restarted to fill some of the supply gap. And the Belgian energy minister, Marie-Christine Marghem, told MPs the country was “covered” for December, but the situation remained fluid for January and February.

But the fate of Belgians now seems to depend on the weather in a neighbouring country. A deal has been struck for France to provide electricity, but that might not be possible if it is hit by a cold snap. There are also technical obstacles emerging to plans to source power from Germany.

Engie Electrabel, the company that runs the nuclear plants, has launched an advertising campaign to persuade industrial firms to reduce their electricity usage.

Concerned residents have been told by the country’s energy supplier, Elia, there is a free app, the eliaforecast, to keep them abreast of the electricity situation and inform them whether there is a risk of a power shortage, disconnection or termination of supply. “The power indicator not only gives you the status of today, but also the prospects for the next six days,” Elia says.

A spokesman for Elia said: “There’s a taskforce under the minister of energy. We are monitoring the situation week by week and we report to her. If we need additional measures it is her responsibility.”

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