(May 27, 2005) On May 18, activists from Greenpeace occupied the site of Borssele, the sole remaining nuclear power reactor in The Netherlands as a result of the renewed debate on its future, which re-started when members of the government again put the official closure date into question.
(628.5690) WISE Amsterdam - On February 16, when most NGOs involved in energy issues were celebrating the entering into force of the Kyoto protocol, the Dutch Secretary of State for the Environment (The Netherlands no longer has a Minister for Environmental Affairs) announced that the government is seeking ways to keep the Borssele nuclear power plant open for 20 more years. The coalition government (three parties of right-wing Conservatives), in 2002, agreed upon the closure of the last Dutch commercial nuclear power station in 2013, at the end of its natural lifetime (40 years).
However, the government has so far failed to come up with a comprehensive and/or inspiring plan for more renewables, energy efficiency or even new investments in cleaner power stations or wind farms. The Dutch will probably only be able to meet the Kyoto targets because half of the savings on CO2-emission are to be met with projects in other countries via the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
And as the Dutch energy market has gradually been liberalized and left to the market, the owners of the Borssele nuclear reactor can successfully claim that it is not up to the government to decide when the reactor should close. The Dutch system allows a plant that fulfills safety requirements to be awarded an open-ended license; Borssele has one. The utility, EPZ, has stated that it should receive between 700 and 1200 million Euros in compensation from the government if 'forced' to close in 2013. This claim has led the Dutch NGO world and communities at large to re-start their opposition for the first time in maybe 15 years. Groups are increasing efforts to put pressure on parliament and the government to stick to the original closure date of 2013.
The State Secretary for the Environment hired two consultants to initiate talks with the main stakeholders, behind closed doors, to identify possibilities for making a dirty deal; if the environmental movement would accept the postponement of closure to 2033 then the 'saved' money (from not compensating the utility) would then be spent on renewable energy projects and investments.
Divide and rule
In the first round of this tense and highly political game all the environmental NGOs refused to participate, not wanting to "…bargain on nuclear energy". The offer of such a deal has served to galvanize the Dutch anti-nuclear movement and in response to the political war games, a coalition of eight environmental groups responded with an action. Greenpeace Netherlands and WISE have been increasing the number of its actions against nuclear energy and earlier this year, 200 drums with 'radioactive waste' were placed in front of parliamentary buildings. On May 18, Greenpeace managed to occupy the Borssele site and some activists even climbed onto the reactor dome. This was a major embarrassment for both the government and the utility as just a few months ago, the entire nation was shaken by the news that a would-be Muslim terrorist had been arrested with detailed maps of the nuclear power station. Greenpeace easily walked onto the site with 40 people and 12 of them occupied the dome for a day, painting a huge crack to symbolize the expected problems of ageing reactors.
Other players (opinion makers, civil servants, environmental and energy consultants, etc) in the debate are much more open to the idea of a deal (postponed closure in exchange for money for renewables). The consultants are now attempting to play the divide-and-rule game by trying to expose supporters of a deal.
Although not written in stone yet, it seems that the government wants to keep Borssele open until at least 2033. This has far reaching consequences for the discussion on radwaste and reprocessing. In a new report ("Ontwikkelingen met betrekking tot eindverwerking van gebruikte brandstof", NRG, April 2005), the government published new details on the status of Dutch plutonium stocks; in the last 15 years, despite almost annual parliamentary debate on reprocessing, no details were ever published on the exact status of Dutch reprocessing contracts. The government has decided that there are still no relevant developments to stop reprocessing (despite, for instance, the 'new' terrorism threat).
The State Secretary and his staff have, of course in confidentiality, been allowed to view the reprocessing contracts with Cogema for the first time ever. After some discussions both Cogema and Borssele agreed to reveal the following information on Dutch plutonium:
- EPZ claims that ownership of Dutch plutonium (Pu) stocks is transferred, or will be transferred, to others for recycling as MOX fuel. Borssele itself does not and will not use MOX. This counts for both the already produced (separated) Pu as well as the Pu still to be produced
- Of the 2,5 tons Pu already produced, 23% was sold to the Kalkar and Superphenix fast breeder projects, 31% was sold for recycling in MOX, 31% is still in storage with the aim to be used in MOX later, as is the remaining 15%. The total amount of separated plutonium owned by The Netherlands is 2.3 tons (Dec. 31, 2004): 0.4 tons from Dodewaard and 1.9 tons from the Borssele reactor.
- Of the 280 tons of reprocessed uranium produced till now, 126 tons has already been re-enriched and used for re-loading into Borssele and 139 tons has been transferred to others. EPZ "expects to find a solution" for the remaining 15 tons.
In February when the future of Borssele was debated, a Dutch businessman announced his intention to build a small (25 Mw) Pebble Bed nuclear reactor in the Netherlands, to be used as a stand-alone energy source for high-energy consuming industry in the Rotterdam harbor area. As he put it, "the question whether I will go to the Ministry and start the process for a license depends largely on how much resistance I meet in society".
The large utilities active in the Dutch energy market are also reviewing their positions on nuclear power. Although none are expected to announce plans to build a large reactor, it is clear that there is a rapid change in thinking occurring, not only within the general public (polls show support for nuclear growing steadily) but, and more importantly in the short term, also within the circles of decision makers.
Source and contact: WISE Amsterdam.