Engie Electrabel opposes an increase in the nuclear bill and the new excess profit tax. The energy company is thus putting extra pressure on the negotiations on Doel 4 and Tihange 3. Negotiations that may not meet their deadline.
Engie Electrabel has to pay an extra 3.3 billion euros for the future cleaning up of the nuclear power plants. New calculations by the Commission for Nuclear Facilities (CNV) show this. The so-called Synatom piggy bank for decommissioning currently contains 14.9 billion euros. According to the Commission for Nuclear Provisions, this amount should be significantly increased.
Luc Dufresne, the chairman of the committee, talks about a logical decision. “The low interest rates of recent years are having an impact,” he says. “Just like the fact that we are getting an increasingly accurate view of the costs of the entire operation. For example, Engie Electrabel has also taken into account an additional EUR 900 million in its own proposal. That says something.”
Engie Electrabel contradicts this. According to the company, there is a particularly large difference between 900 million euros and 3.3 billion euros extra. As the operator of the Belgian nuclear power plants, it is up to the French energy company to replenish the nuclear piggy bank. That is required by law.
Engie Electrabel does not intend to just cough up 3.3 billion euros. “We believe that with our proposal there is enough money in the Synatom piggy bank to cover future nuclear costs. It cannot be the intention that a shovel is added every three years,” says Thierry Saegeman, the Belgian CEO of Engie Electrabel.
Certainly not because the government itself has been on the scene for 20 years when it comes to the disposal of nuclear waste, it says. The storage sites for low-level radioactive waste do not yet have a permit and politicians do not dare to decide on the storage of high-level radioactive waste. According to figures from Engie Electrabel, this will result in an additional cost of 1.3 billion euros for the company.
Engie Electrabel is considering legal action against the increase in the nuclear bill. A consultation period of 60 days will follow first. But judging by Dufresne, there is little margin: “Our estimate is based on expertise from, among others, the National Bank, the financial regulator FSMA, the nuclear watchdog FANC and Niras, which is responsible for nuclear waste.”
Legal action is also being considered by Engie Electrabel against the new excess profit tax. In Belgium, the De Croo government has decided to skim off all profits above 130 euros per megawatt hour of electricity. The law was passed last week.
According to Saegeman, the excess profit tax contradicts, among other things, the 2015 agreement on the lifespan extension of the Tihange 1 and Doel 1 and 2 nuclear power plants.known as the nuclear interest, JVH) would stay. A tax that will already generate 1 billion euros this year.”
In itself, a financial discussion about nuclear power plants is nothing new. Engie Electrabel has always tried to protect its income from Belgian nuclear power plants. In the desk of former top woman Sophie Dutordoir, a photo of a bitter parliamentary hearing on nuclear interest has hung for years. In the front of the picture: a smiling Dutordoir.
At the same time, the media offensive of parent company Engie – with several press releases on Tuesday morning – cannot be viewed separately from the ongoing negotiations on the lifespan extension of the youngest nuclear power plants: Doel 4 and Tihange 3. These negotiations have been dragging on for ten months. Since this summer an agreement in principle has been closed, little progress seems to have been made.
According to Saegeman, the press releases are the result of Engie’s obligation as a listed company to be open to important dossiers. In the same breath, he emphasizes that the disagreement about the nuclear invoice and excess profit tax shows that a binding agreement is urgently needed on Doel 4 and Tihange 3. “The only thing we as a company ask for is certainty.”
Saegeman repeats the plea for a ‘maximum invoice’ for the disposal of nuclear waste. “So that we know where we stand. This has already happened in the Netherlands and Germany. Otherwise it would not be feasible for us to continue to operate nuclear power plants.” In any case, Saegeman points out that the arrival of such a maximum invoice has already been agreed in this summer’s agreement in principle.
The chance that a final agreement will be reached on Doel 4 and Tihange 3 before the turn of the year – the deadline that Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open Vld) has set himself – seems very small. In the words of Saegeman: “I think this is unlikely. There is still work to be done and some hard nuts to crack. But we join every meeting and we still have a good feeling.”
Also about the question to ‘stretch’ nuclear power plants to get through the difficult winter of 2025-2026 safely, Engie Electrabel is on the brakes. Legally and technically this is not obvious.
The government is trying to keep a poker face. Sources emphasize that the Nuclear Provisions Commission operates completely independently. It is therefore not up to politicians to get involved in a discussion of figures. “And of course it is true that the determination of the maximum invoice for nuclear waste is a crucial point of discussion. Something it gets stuck on.”
The green movement urges the government to take a hard line. Even though Doel 4 and Tihange 3 are needed for the power supply. “They must not let themselves be pushed into a corner: the polluter must pay and excess profits must be skimmed off. All cost price recalculations must also be completely transparent,” says Benjamin Clarysse of BBL.