Belgium braces for power cuts

The Belgian government is making contingency plans as the impact of the closure of half its nuclear capacity looks set to see the imposition of planned power cuts this winter.

Vessels enclosing the Doel 3 and Tihange 2 nuclear reactors were found to be suffering from micro fractures which led to their closure earlier this year. However another blow was suffered just a fortnight ago when Doel 4 plant was shut due to an oil leak, believed to have been caused by sabotage.

All three plants are likely to remain out of action until the end of the year, and it has led Belgium's parliament to hold a special session to discuss the situation. It has commissioned the national crisis centre to set out possible scenarios in case of a power shortage this winter.
Doel nuclear
If shortages look imminent, authorities would launch an appeal, urging the general public to cut down on energy use and would order some industrial firms to reduce production.

Regional chiefs have already been notified by the government. The EZR website reports that half of the province of Limburg's communities could get disconnected from the electricity grid in the event of a power shortage, with Northern Limburg and the Maas area chiefly affected.

Limburg’s Governor Herman Reynders called local mayors to his office yesterday to discuss forthcoming arrangements if the most negative scenario comes to be.

According to EZR, “A map was briefly shown to the mayors with some indication of who will get disconnected and who won't, but the communities were not identified by name making it difficult. Some mayors don’t know whether they will get disconnected or not.”

"We will be notified seven days in advance", said Marino Keulen, Open VLD (party) mayor of Lanaken. "In an acute crisis we will be told a day in advance. We could get disconnected for a period of four hours and that's usually in the early evening."

The government appears to have designated rural parts of the region for outages, with more urban and industrial areas to escape the power shutdowns.

Mayor Jan Dalemans of Hechtel-Eksel said, "We are astonished that we could still be catapulted back the stone age in 2014.”

“The military base of Kleine-Brogel has a lot of generators. Maybe a cooperation with the Department of Defence is possible, if disaster strikes", added the mayor of Peer, Steven Matheï.

"The decision to switch off power would be the last measure," said Peter Mertens, a spokesman for the National Crisis Centre. "If that decision is taken, it would definitely have an impact on society."

"It would be very complicated to cut off power supplies," said Axelle Pollet of Elia, ELI.BT +0.49% the Belgian grid operator. "We'd have to still make sure that people can get home safely, that the trains are running and the traffic lights can still work."

Ms. Pollet added that much could hinge on the severity of the coming winter.

To mitigate against shortfalls, Belgium is likely to boost imports of electricity from its neighbors, France and the Netherlands. Aviel Verbruggen, an energy professor at the University of Antwerp. "The problem will come if the spike in demand from Belgium coincides with a spike in France and they won't deliver that electricity."



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