Europe and nuclear – episode 3: Netherlands

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Published on 24/12/2020

A new hope. A country that takes its climate goals seriously. A country that calls on a panel of recognized technical experts to help answer them. A country that trusts its conclusions and looks at the comparative benefits and risks of the alternatives. A country that breaks free from fashionable trends to assess what is in its rationally assessed long-term interest. A country that allows itself to change its mind because it has taken new elements into consideration.

This is the… shining example, let us not be afraid of words as it sometimes seems that obscurantism gains, that the Netherlands are giving by electing nuclear power to help respond to the climate emergency.

At the provocation of Greenpeace, which loudly congratulated itself on the fact that the Dutch government was condemned by justice on October 9, 2019 for climate failure, it responded with seriousness and responsibility … by instructing the restart of the nuclear program rather than its final closure. A moment of grace .This case had two consequences.

One dangerous: the opponents understood, when they had to associate the exit from nuclear power, an ideological whim, with the exit from fossils, a climate imperative, to prevent the Dutch case from happening again, that this simple association of words worked, was even sufficient to mislead entire generations.

The other pleasing and that we are witnessing today: the Netherlands will indeed get back on the path of reducing its emissions by increasing the use of nuclear power.

Of course, the development of nuclear power in the Netherlands will only compensate for the announced loss of Belgian nuclear capacities and what remains in Germany. Europe will have gained nothing, and it will still have to adopt a coherent, proactive, pragmatic and ambitious systemic energy-climate policy.

But sometimes all it takes is a country, a little setting an example, to arouse doubt, the spark of an initial awareness for the whole to change.

So I don’t know about you, but here at the Voices, that’s what we put in our letter to Santa Claus.

And since the Voices have grown up a bit now, we didn’t just write the letter, we also concocted a terrific year 2021, with lots of sparks to raise lots of awareness.

Wait and see , or better yet: Come and join.

Happy holidays to everyone!


for the Voices

A new hope: Netherlands growing climate concern awakens their interest in nuclear energy

By Mathijs Beckers

Mathijs is a documentary film-maker who has written 4 books on climate change and nuclear energy. Recently, he became chairman of e-Lise, a Dutch NGO aimed at creating the environment needed to deploy Nuclear Reactors.

Although the Netherlands was actually a pioneer of nuclear power in Europe, installing one of Europe’s first nuclear power reactors at Dodewaard in 1969, today the Dutch electricity network is mainly powered by natural gas, coal, and biomass. Nuclear power is limited to only 3-4% of power generation, with a single reactor operating at the Borssele nuclear power plant, while fossil fuels represent 75% of the power generation…  In fact, the whole Dutch economy mostly runs on oil and gas, with an annual primary energy consumption of roughly 1150 TWh per year. With global warming becoming an increasingly pressing issue, it has become clear for the population and the government that the current energy mix is not sustainable. The idea of a transition towards cleaner sources of energy is now acknowledged by most Dutch.

Since the ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement, the Dutch government has been looking for ways to reduce carbon emissions from the production and consumption of energy. In a series of domestic Climate Talks, the parties involved tried to form an energy-transition strategy based on wind, solar, and biomass. Consequently, the Dutch government decided to boost wind power deployments by externalizing the grid-connection costs, and decided to boost biomass by subsidizing it.

Nuclear was excluded because the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate erroneously concluded that new nuclear power plants couldn’t be brought online before the 2030 deadline which they arbitrarily set; they also ignored the fact that a significant portion of the energy infrastructure would still need to be decarbonized between 2030 and 2040.

Between 70% and 90% of the Dutch population supports nuclear energy

After the results of the Dutch Climate Talks were presented, people in the Netherlands showed a widespread interest in the issue. It was generally accepted that the country must transition away from the use of natural gas, but the idea that we had to burn more biomass to transition away from natural gas seemed very counterintuitive. The Dutch also seem aware that they would need an incredible amount of onshore wind to transition away from natural gas, and that’s difficult in a country as densely populated and as small as the Netherlands.

In 2018, public support for nuclear soared after Dutch comedian Arjen Lubach presented his case in favor of nuclear energy on public television1. In fact, recent polls suggest that between 70% and 90% of the Dutch support nuclear energy2. Ever since, prominent people in the Netherlands including former Minister of Education, Culture and Science Ronald Plasterk of the PVDA (Labour Party), and Klaas Dijkhoff, leader of the VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), have voiced criticism about the overemphasis on wind and biomass and started advocating the inclusion of nuclear power in the climate and energy strategy of the Netherlands.

“How many nuclear power plants can I get in return for that support?”

In September this year, the Dutch government released a report3 prepared by the Enco consulting company which concluded that nuclear power is the safest form of energy per TWh and costs about the same as solar and wind when all system costs are taken into account.

The Borssele nuclear power plant
Photo EPZ

The report prompted the Dutch House of Representatives to ask the government to perform a pro-active market consultation to assess the actions needed to help companies deploy new nuclear reactors in the Netherlands. “[I will support your ambition to lower carbon emissions even more, but] how many nuclear power plants can I get in return for that support?” liberal MP Klaas Dijkhoff asked during the debate on September 17 in the House of Representatives.

Dijkhoff followed through by introducing a motion asking the government to investigate how the construction of new nuclear power plants can be supported. First conclusions are expected in the final days of 2020.

Various sources estimate that the plan could include 3 to 10 new nuclear reactors. As the objective is to put them into service in the 2030s, the construction work could start as early as 2025. Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are considered among potential options, although the focus on budget and time constraints makes tested and tried reactor technologies the more logical choice.

The Dutch situation underlines the critical importance of a well-informed public opinion

It is in this context, rather favorable to nuclear power, that EPZ, which operates the nuclear reactor in Borssele, announced recently4 its intention to extend the PWR’s operating life by 20 years and to build two additional reactors on the same site. It’s still unclear whether these would be EPRs, APR1400s or some other design. Building such large reactors would be a big step for the site, whose current tenant, the Borssele PWR, is rated at only 515 MW.

Officials from neighboring Germany have already indicated their disapproval of the construction of any new nuclear plant. Olaf Lies, Lower Saxony’s environment minister, stated that “[he] will do everything in [his] power to prevent the Netherlands from seeing a new dawn of nuclear power”5. While Lower Saxony borders on the Netherlands, the Borssele site is more than 200 km from the nearest German town…While too early to know exactly how this nuclear power renaissance will actually materialize in the Netherlands, seeing political decision-makers act on the climate challenge based on scientific information is already good news. The Dutch situation also underlines the critical importance of a well-informed and educated public opinion, which enables political leaders to act freely and use the most effective solutions to address the climate issue. This very clear reminder will be an extra source of motivation for the members of our association in the coming period!