(CN) – An EU magistrate was critical of Belgium on Wednesday for not conducting an environmental study before it waylaid its commitment to going nuclear-energy free.
Under the terms of a 2003 compact, Belgium had been set in 2015 to being phasing out its seven nuclear reactors. The plan called for Belgium to decommission any nuclear facilities that had been in operation for 40 years, while also not building any new ones, with the last plant set to close in 2025.
In 2015 the Doel 1 nuclear reactor on the Scheldt river, near Antwerp and Belgium’s border with the Netherlands, was set to shutter in mid-February, and the nearby nuclear reactor Doel 2 would follow later that year.
Come June 2015, however, the country passed legislation that reauthorized electricity production at Doel 1 until Feb. 15, 2025. The law also postponed the decommissioning of Doel 2 until Dec. 2, 2025.
In exchange for keeping the reactors online, plant operator Electrabel agreed to invest approximately 700 million euros in security. Belgium officials did not deem an environmental impact assessment necessary, however, because they determined that the modifications would not cause any negative radiological effects or otherwise change existing radiological environmental effects significantly.
The extensions have spurred a challenge before the Belgian Constitutional Court, but that case is on holding pending input from the European Court of Justice on what EU law requires.
In a nonbinding advisory opinion to that Luxembourg-based court, Advocate General Juliane Kokott agreed with the challengers Thursday that the extensions appear to have been granted without the necessary environmental studies.
“Faits accomplis weaken the effectiveness of an environmental assessment that is carried out retrospectively,” Kokott wrote. “The main function of the assessment, when used in good time, is to influence the decision concerning the project such that environmental damage is minimised as far as possible. For this reason, it is to be undertaken, under Article 6(4) of the Aarhus Convention and Article 6(4) of the EIA Directive, as early as possible, when all options are open. If it is merely carried out retrospectively, it can perform this function only to a very limited extent because many decisions have already been taken. Modifying those decisions in the light of the retrospective assessment is even less attractive when they have actually already been implemented.”
The Belgian government reached a new energy pact earlier this year to phase out atomic power between 2022 and 2025.
Compared to the 58 nuclear reactors operated in France, Belgium is in a distant fourth place when it comes to highest share of nuclear power in national energy grids. The country sources about 40 percent of its power from atomic energy, and the Doe and Tihange power plants together provide more than 50 percent of the country’s electricity.
Though it supposed to meet a renewable energy target of 13 percent by 2020, recent Eurostat data shows that only 8.7 percent of Belgium’s energy needs are sourced from renewable sources like solar and wind.
When Belgium reauthorized the two Doel reactors in 2015, they had been offline for two years so that officials could carry out extensive safety checks on newly emerged micro-cracks.