Power black-out fears re-emerge

The nuclear reactor Doel 4 in Doel's nuclear power plant will be offline for the rest of the year, it was confirmed by operators Electrabel. This latest blow to the Belgian nuclear power supplies could cause power shortages when demand is high next winter, and may also lead to a price hike.

Reactor 4 at Doel came to an automatic standstill two weeks ago after 65,000 litres of lubrication oil were leaked from a turbine. It turns out that it will take longer than expected to get the reactor operational again. As the VRT reported on Wednesday, it will not be possible to get the reactor started again this year.

The news comes on top of existing problems with other reactors such as Doel 3 and Tihange 2, while Tihange 1 will be closed for maintenance works in September. This cuts Belgium's nuclear power capacity by half, as only 3 of the 7 reactors remain in service.

Elia, the company that runs the high voltage network in Belgium, called the situation "serious". "We are not expecting any problems now. However, power shortages may emerge as from the end of October and early November." There are fears of black-outs and some people are even considering buying diesel generators, although these cost a pretty penny.

One solution would be to import more energy, but this is only possible to a certain extent. It would also make Belgium more dependent on other countries, and could lead to higher electricity prices.

BBL: "Use less energy"

The environmental pressure organisation Bond Beter Leefmilieu (BBL) is asking the government to solve the imminent problem by taking sustainable measures to save energy, suggesting a spate of measures. These include a cutdown on electrical heating systems in private houses, more efficient lighting systems in big office blocks and more efficient pumps and motors in the industrial sector.

The VREG, the Flemish Electricity Regulator, estimates that the imminent shortage will eventually create higher prices. "Uncertainty and shortages have an impact on price levels. Today, we are seeing some panic. Will it continue to last? In the short run, things may not change so much, but in the long run it could have an effect", says André Pictoel of the VREG.