Addicted to nuclear energy?
A new report from the National Planning Bureau has raised serious concerns about Belgium's energy use and environmental targets. What needs to change? Aaron Gray-Block writes.
Belgium will not meet its climate change targets laid down by the Kyoto Protocol, not even with new measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The warning came this week from the National Planning Bureau (NPB), which also said the situation is "alarming".
Can Belgium do without nuclear energy?
Renewable energy remains expensive and the NPB also stressed the use of fossil energy compels a more ambitious climate change policy.
The crux of the matter is that Belgium is addicted to nuclear energy.
The Kyoto Protocol states that developed countries must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by an average of 5.2 percent between 1990 and 2008-12.
Having ratified the treaty, Belgium must reduce its emissions by 7.5 percent and government policy has met with some success despite yearly fluctuations.
Red: nuclear power plant; blue: AVN offices; green: research, isotope facility
Warning that Belgium will not meet its emission targets laid out in the Kyoto Protocol, the NPB also said buying emission rights will help alleviate, but not resolve the problem.
One of the prime concerns is that Belgians use 19 percent more energy than residents of other industrialised nations. Only US nationals perform worse.
Per resident, Belgians produce 36 percent more CO2 than citizens in the older European Union states, not including the 10 new member states.
Energy policy concerns
The Belgian government's policy of stimulating renewable energy production has led to off-shore wind parks, the use of biofuels and a higher fiscal deductibility for energy-saving investments in homes.
However, sustainable development must also be supported by greater certainty about the consequences of political decisions over the very long-term, the NPB said.
It said various uncertainties are worrying, such as the limited debate over energy use in Belgium and the poor dissemination of information to the public.
A lack of cohesion of data between the federal government and the nation's regional authorities and the level at which policy is integrated across governmental departments also give cause for concern.
However, the NPB said the establishment of the Federal Energy Service Company (Fedesco) to achieve energy savings in the federal public service illustrates Belgian political will to affect change.
Belgian nuclear policy
*sidebar1*The Belgian government has stated its ambition to reduce the nation's reliance on nuclear energy in federal energy policy.
Currently, nuclear energy remains the number one source of electricity in Belgium, amounting to 70 percent of production. That will fall to 52 percent of domestic electricity production in five years time.
Nuclear electricity reportedly makes up more than half of domestic production in just two other countries, namely France and Slovakia.
But due to the fact that electricity only amounts to 16 percent of total energy use, nuclear-powered electricity amounts to 9 percent of use in Belgium.
Oil and other fossil fuels account for 90 percent of Belgian energy use, while renewable energy — such as wind, solar, biofuels etc — accounts for 1 percent.
Renewable energy use will only increase to 3.7 percent — or at most 5 percent — in 25 years time, because it remains expensive to produce.
The Belgium government intends to abandon nuclear energy from 2015 and in the 10 years after that, the nation's seven nuclear reactors will need to shut down.
Nuclear pros and cons
Environmental lobby group Greenp