(CN) – Europe’s highest court rapped Belgium on Monday for extending the life of two nuclear power stations without performing the necessary environmental checks.
Belgian lawmakers adopted the extensions in 2015 for the power stations Doel 1 and Doel 2, both of which are located on the Escaut river near Antwerp and the Netherlands border.
Twelve years earlier, lawmakers had selected 2015 as the start of a timetable to phase out nuclear power, but the extension put those plans on hold until 2025, accompanied by about $780 million worth of upgrades.
Belgium’s Constitutional Court asked the European Court of Justice to weigh in when the extensions spurred a challenge by environmentalists.
Though a copy of Monday’s ruling is not available in English, a press release from the court says that Belgium was obligated under EU law to conduct an environmental-impact assessment because the modernization project is “of a comparable scale, in terms of risks of environmental impact, to the initial commissioning of those power stations.”
“Moreover, since the Doel 1 and Doel 2 stations are situated near the Belgian-Netherlands border, such a project must also be subject to the transboundary assessment procedure laid down by that directive,” the press release continues.
Even though one of the Doel plants needed regulatory authorization just to return to be put back into operations, the court said an assessment should have been carried out before the extension was adopted.
A member state can get an exemption from the environmental impact study only it “establishes that the risk to the security of electricity supply is reasonably likely, and that the project is so urgent in nature as to justify the lack of such an assessment,” according to the ruling.
The court said such circumstances do not appear to have been met in the present case.
If the “assessment is negative, and there are no alternative solutions,” according to the ruling, EU law “only allows the project to be executed if it is justified by the need to ensure, at all times, the security of supply of electricity in that member state.”
The ruling also notes that the court in Belgium must verify if “the need to prevent a genuine and serious threat of interruption to the supply of electricity” overrides the risk that the project would affect a site hosting a priority natural habitat type or a priority species.
Nothing precludes Belgium from carrying out the necessary assessments now, while the project is being executed or even after it has been completed, the court added.
Representatives for plant owner Electrabel did not return an email seeking comment.