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Dutch eye nuclear revival to reach climate goals

The Netherlands is considering whether to extend the life of its ageing nuclear plant and even contemplating building new stations

The Dutch government is clearly warming to nuclear energy again after it undertook several initiatives in recent weeks to ensure atomic power can remain one of its low-carbon energy sources.

The country’s only nuclear power plant, at Borssele in the southwestern Netherlands, is set to shut down in 2033. The government has now started to assess the legal framework for extending the plant’s lifetime by another 10-20 years, the first step towards keeping it open for longer.

The government has also launched an investigation into what investors would require to provide capital for new nuclear plants and what kind of state support they may need, highlighting its willingness to accept construction of new nuclear plants.

“Nuclear energy can present a cost-efficient option for the future” Eric Wiebes, Dutch energy minister

“Various international studies have shown that nuclear energy can present a cost-efficient option for the future,” says Dutch minister for economics and energy Eric Wiebes.

The topic had not drawn much government attention in recent years due to the long timeframes involved, but it is now back on the agenda as the Netherlands is trying to find ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 95pc below 1990 levels by 2050.

The government’s largest coalition party, the right-of-centre VVD of which Wiebes is a member, called in recent weeks to extend the lifetime of the Borssele nuclear plant and to subsidise nuclear energy as part of the government’s low-carbon incentive scheme.

Dutch legislation does not provide for another lifetime extension at Borssele, which had received parliamentary approval in 2006 to run for an additional 20 years beyond its initial closure date of 2013. Wiebes says he will now liaise with a ministerial colleague to understand what steps are needed to amend the law to allow the plant to operate longer.

Borssele operator Elektriciteitsproducent Zuid-Nederland estimates the plant’s technical condition allows for another lifetime extension, and that the station’s current costs are €43-48/MWh ($51-57/MWh), including yearly investments of €15-25mn. A lifetime extension will need to be carefully weighed against technical but also security benchmarks. One of the attributes that allows the nuclear plant to keep operating is that it remains among the world’s safest stations, scoring in the top quartile in independent five-year assessments.

Cheapest option

A recent study into nuclear energy by atomic energy consultancy Enco, commissioned by the government, says prolonging operations of existing nuclear plants is the most cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions—even cheaper than building new wind and solar farms.

“The government of the Netherlands should consider facilitating a lifetime extension of the Borssele nuclear power plant beyond 2033 to maintain the plant’s contribution of low-carbon electricity and Dutch knowledge of nuclear power,” concludes the IEA in a separate report on the Dutch energy sector. The agency also suggests the government puts frameworks in place that create a favourable investment climate to help attract funding at an acceptable cost.

2033 – Year Netherlands’ only nuclear plant is set to shut

As part of the government’s investigation into investor interest in nuclear projects, it will also look at which regions of the Netherlands show an interest in hosting a nuclear plant. Three sites have government clearance to accommodate new nuclear power plants: Tweede Maasvlakte, Eemshaven and a third site close to the existing Borssele plant. Wiebes says he will report to parliament on the investigation’s progress before Christmas.

So far, no parties have come forward to express an interest in building new nuclear plants in the Netherlands. Recent examples of nuclear newbuild projects in western Europe, such as Finland’s Olkiluoto 3, France’s Flamanville 3 or the UK’s Hinkley Point C, have all run well over budget and delivery deadlines.

“If market conditions are insufficient for private parties to invest and the government is still determined to push for nuclear investments, incentives must be provided,” says Martijn Duvoort, director of energy markets at consultancy DNV GL.

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