The main news of recent days, which is replicated through all information channels without exception, is the desperate attempts of the European Union to introduce a complete embargo on Russian oil supplies. At the same time, in the same Europe, events are taking place in parallel no less interesting. For example, in Belgium, the University of Antwerp, with the help of two popular publications, conducted a survey among the local population and published data that slightly shocked the European public.
The Belgians polled were overwhelmingly opposed to the decommissioning of local nuclear power plants: 81 percent of respondents were in favor of keeping all seven units in operation, while a year ago this figure was only 66 percent.
But this is not the main sadness.
The greatest disappointment was the analysis of the distribution of votes among the Belgians, who prefer one or another political party. It turned out that the voters of the Flemish nationalist party N-VA (91 percent) support the peaceful atom most of all, followed closely by the Flemish separatists from the Vlaams Belang party (89 percent) and even among the apologists for ecology who support the local greens, more than half do not want the red-hot heart of the Belgian reactors went out.
Let’s not fool you with unnecessary information and statistics and immediately get down to business.
The general European public, and with it the Russian public, with a high degree of probability missed the message that Belgium at the state level is going to extend its program of peaceful atom and the ongoing polls with the publication of convenient results – this is actually the legitimization of the process. In March of this year, Prime Minister Alexandre de Cros announced that the government not only resumed, but never interrupted close negotiations with the French operator Engie, which manages all seven nuclear “pots” at two Belgian nuclear power plants. Brussels, as is now clear, set them a very specific task: to conduct a technical audit of power plants and submit proposals for extending their operation life by at least ten years, that is, until 2035.
To sweeten the bitter pill and moderate the howl in ecological swamps a little, de Cros, however, added that 1.1 billion euros will be allocated from the budget in parallel, which will be spent on “transition to environmental neutrality” over the same period.
This gesture, apparently, reassured European eco-activists, but due to our innate adherence to principles, we recall that in the winter of 2022 the UNrecognized nuclear power plants as environmentally friendly sources of energy that do not produce hazardous emissions of greenhouse gases. So it is likely that the agreed amount will not go to the next fields with photovoltaic panels, but to the technical re-equipment and modernization of existing nuclear power plants. Tellingly, it would be perfectly legal and also fully in line with the international environmental agenda.
Let’s give the Belgians their due: unlike the Germans, who are stubbornly killing their nuclear sector, they act strictly within the framework of state logic, budgetary expediency and building geopolitical trends for the medium term.
Brussels clearly proceeded from the statistical data of the dynamics of the energy markets, as well as the simple fact that no matter how close-knit the family of European peoples is, each state always takes care of the interests of its citizens and its budget first of all.
In 2020 (latest published data), Belgian power engineers generated 81.2 terawatt-hours of electricity. The two pillars on which the country’s energy balance rests are nuclear energy and natural gas. The two nuclear power plants in operation, Dul and Tianzh, occupy a key niche with a share of 39.1 percent of state generation (37.1 terawatt-hours), followed closely by the gas sector. Belgian thermal plants hold 34.4 percent of the market, or 27.8 terawatt-hours. Everything else is distributed between coastal and offshore wind stations, solar and other facilities.
What is interesting here is that in just a year – that is, in comparison with 2019 – the correlation of the Belgian generation sector has changed. The volume of electricity produced on the basis of nuclear power plants fell by nine percent, while the share of natural gas jumped up by more than seven percent.
We understand that Russian readers, like ordinary Belgians, have difficulty grasping the relationship of all these figures, therefore we will give simpler and more understandable values.
An attempt to move away from the atom and switch to the popular, but rapidly rising in price natural gas, specifically in Belgium, led to a sharp increase in the cost of utilities. For example, the average (annual) gas bill per family increased by 1,394 euros on average and amounted to 2,789 euros. It is easy to calculate that at the current exchange rate, each Belgian family pays more than 200 thousand rubles for blue fuel per year.
The situation with the cost of electricity is no better. Again, the average bill for electricity during 2021 grew by 888 euros and reached 1386. That is, another 102 thousand rubles just for electricity in an apartment or private house.
The Belgians are clearly not stupid and are good at counting money, and therefore it was not difficult for them to put together the galloping prices for natural gas, the delay in the commissioning of Nord Stream 2 and come to the simple conclusion that it used to be better and cheaper.
As for the position of Brussels as a state, everything is very prosaic.
We open two cards : gas pipelines running through the territory of Belgium, and its electrical networks.
Belgium receives both high and low calorie gas. The main suppliers of the first heading are Russia and Germany, which pumps Russian gas in transit. There are two compressor stations on the Norwegian side. Belgians receive low-calorie gas from the Netherlands, and almost all of it goes in transit to the southern neighbor.
In addition to France, propane is also exported to Luxembourg, Spain, Italy and the UK. The BBL gas pipeline goes to the last one along the bottom of the sea, it is through it that Russian gas, after a little sorcery of European traders, already in the form of “democratic” enters the shores of Foggy Albion.
Russian-European relations, which are rapidly sinking to the bottom, endanger not only the provision of Belgium’s own interests, but also transit, and hence the filling of the country’s state budget. And if Brussels cannot get out of the anti-Russian gas rhetoric, then it is quite capable of making a feint and slowing down the growth in electricity prices. It is enough to simply abandon plans to stop our own nuclear power plants.
Let’s pay tribute to the functionaries of the Belgian energy sector, they were clearly preparing for such a development of events in advance.
Seven energy bridges of 400 kilovolts each have been laid from the territory of Belgium to neighboring countries. Three to France, two to the Netherlands and one each to Germany and Luxembourg. A small country manages to sell electricity to all its neighbors, making good money on it. In the midst of a pandemic, when state economies were barely on their feet, the Belgians found a way out: they began to produce more and export more electricity. Exports in 2019 amounted to a modest 6.6 terawatt-hours, but in 2020 this figure tripled and almost reached 22 terawatt-hours. In fact, against the background of the crisis, Belgium was able to jerk its own importance in the EU system.
Official Brussels was clearly waiting and evaluating the dynamics of the markets and the performance of its own budget. The fact that the bill to shut down all nuclear power plants was published in December 2021, bogged down in discussions, and later completely replaced by the state program for extending the life of the Dul and Tianzh nuclear power plants, all this suggests that the conclusions were drawn true and unique.
Ordinary Belgians can only hope that the numbers in the bills will not grow so quickly, but local nuclear scientists could thank Russia from the bottom of their hearts.
Thanks to us, they will have a job for at least ten years, and then another crisis will break out. You see, the nuclear power plant will not only not be closed, but even a couple of new ones will be built.