The nuclear power plants and their economic and social role

Did you know that our nuclear power plants produce electricity more than 80% of the time? Such a stable source of energy in the electricity mix leads to a competitive market price. Ultimately our nuclear power plants also ensure employment. Find out everything about the economic and societal role of our nuclear power plants.

Price

Keeping nuclear power in the electricity mix has a downward effect on the market price for electricity. This is because it is cheaper to produce electricity based on installed nuclear power than based on natural gas or coal. Conversely, the planned nuclear exit will mean the average production costs of electricity increase. The CO2 price and fuel costs are then increased and the increase in imports will mean that the trade balance willv be negatively influenced. If the Belgian authorities were to decide to keep 2 nuclear power plants open after 2025 then the advantage of the lower electricity price for the consumer can be up to EUR 120 million/year. In addition, support for new gas power stations (to guarantee the security of supply) according to consultancy firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers would cost approximately € 345 million per year. One can assume that, just as in other countries, half the cost of this mechanism – possibly even more – will be charged to residential and industrial electricity consumers.

A more gradual nuclear exit makes it possible to limit costs of this relatively expensive intermediate step (with new gas power stations) and invest the resources released in CO2-free technologies which can also play a role after 2050. An operating extension of 2 nuclear power plants thus provides a saving of 60 to 250 million euro per year, in terms of avoided support for gas power stations, and this throughout the duration of the extension.

Employment

At present, the production of nuclear power creates about 9,000 jobs in Belgium. In the event of a complete nuclear exit, only 2,000 of them would be left, mainly for dismantling the power stations. In other words: if all nuclear units are shut down on their legal date, more than 7,000 jobs are lost. Finding alternatives for all these jobs through the construction of renewable production facilities or manning of gas power stations, for example, is not possible for the simple reason that for the operation of these types of energy production requires much fewer people.

Availability of nuclear power plants

The average availability of the Belgian nuclear power plants since 2000 is 81.2%. This is in line with the international average, which is 78.9% (during the period 2000 to 2018). Until 2011 the Belgian nuclear power plants achieved availability figures which were even easily above 85%. From 2012 onwards, they decreased to just below 80%, with low records in 2014, 2015 and 2018.

The causes of this lower availability were:

  • An increased safety awareness and new safety standards, including due to the events in Fukushima. Thanks to enhanced inspection programmes, some issues were identified in the Belgian nuclear power plants. As a responsible operator, Electrabel shut down its power stations as a preventive measure for thorough analyses, inspections and work.
  • Many complex projects in the context of the operating extensions of Doel 1, 2 and Tihange 1, which means that the power stations were shut down for a long time over the past few years.

Electrabel is striving to further increase the availability of its nuclear power plants. In total Electrabel invested €1.3 billion for the operating extension of Doel 1, 2 and Tihange 1 previously approved by the government. From mid-2020 the investment projects for the operating extensions of Doel 1, 2 and Tihange 1 will be completed. In the coming years, the power stations will therefore be able to shut down for less long-term maintenance and will rise again to the high availability figures.