Issue: Energy

This issue contains 4 sections.

Nuclear power

The Dutch Government considers nuclear energy important in the transition to a sustainable energy supply. Nuclear power stations do not emit CO2 and nuclear power increases the reliability of supply.

The Dutch Government considers nuclear energy important in the transition to a sustainable energy supply. Nuclear power stations do not emit CO2 and nuclear power increases the reliability of supply.

Nuclear power also reduces Dutch dependence on oil and gas exporting countries. The Government wants to offer scope for a second nuclear power station in the Netherlands.

Borssele nuclear plant

Borssele, in the province of Zeeland, is currently the only operational nuclear plant in the Netherlands, with a maximum output of 515 megawatts. The Dutch Government and the owner of electricity generator Elektriciteits-Produktiemaatschappij Zuid-Nederland (EPZ) have agreed that the nuclear plant at Borssele will be shut down by the end of 2033.

Other nuclear reactors in the Netherlands

In the Netherlands nuclear reactors are also used for research and for the production of radioactive isotopes for medical and industrial purposes. These are the research reactor in Petten and the Higher Education Reactor (HOR) in Delft. The high flux reactor in Petten produces radioactive isotopes. These are supplied to hospitals for diagnostics and cancer treatments (radiopharmacy). The high flux reactor currently supplies around 30% of the radioactive isotopes for medical use throughout the world.

There are plans to build a new research reactor (PALLAS) in Petten or Borssele. The Government supports this initiative. There is a gas centrifuge in Almelo belonging to Urenco, which enriches natural uranium by increasing the uranium 235 percentage from 0.7 to 4%.

Plans for a new nuclear power plant

Both the utility company DELTA and the energy company Energy Resources Holding (ERH) have plans to build a new nuclear power station in Borssele. The Government is in favour of a rapid licensing procedure for a new nuclear power station. The plant must meet stringent safety requirements (regarding design, storage of radioactive waste, dismantling and anti-terrorism measures). The construction of a new nuclear power station in the Netherlands can begin around 2015.

Safety at Borssele

Stringent safety requirements apply to the Borssele nuclear power plant. For example, it is adapted to new technologies every ten years. The main buildings and safety systems are designed to withstand earthquakes measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale, and floods up to 7.3 metres above NAP (Amsterdam Ordnance Datum).

The stress test / robustness study furthermore showed that the plant can withstand floods up to 8.55 metres. During the worst floods of 1953 the water level rose to a maximum of 4.7 metres above NAP.

The Dutch Government wants the nuclear power station at Borssele to be among the top 25% in Europe, the USA and Canada in terms of safety. The Nuclear Energy Service (KFD) is the supervisory body for nuclear installations in the Netherlands.

European stress test for nuclear power stations

Following the accident affecting nuclear power stations in Fukushima in 2011 the European Union decided to subject all 143 nuclear power stations in Europe to a stress test, to demonstrate whether they can withstand the effects of natural disasters, human error or terrorist attack.

The Netherlands has decided to run a stress test on all the research reactors as well as the Borssele power plant.

International transportation of radioactive waste

Radioactive waste is transported (internationally) in special containers which meet the stringent requirements of containing radioactive material and safeguarding it against accidents, fire or water. All transports are subject to licence. The supervision and control of shipments of radioactive waste and spent fuel are regulated by the Euratom Directive 2006/117. The directive applies between European Member States but also between the EU and other countries.

Spent fuel rods still contain useful material. The operator of the Borssele nuclear power station (EPZ) sends its spent fuel elements to Cap de La Hague in France for reprocessing to recover this material. The usable elements (95%) are separated from the radioactive waste. The radioactive waste (5%) is vitrified and returned to the Netherlands.

Storing radioactive waste

The production of nuclear energy creates radioactive waste. COVRA, (in Dutch) the central body for radioactive waste, stores the waste produced in the Netherlands for at least 100 years.

While radioactive waste is stored above ground, options are sought for definitive (underground) storage. This research is carried out within OPERA, the national research programme for definitive storage of radioactive waste. At the moment there is not a single country that has found a definitive site for spent nuclear fuel. The Netherlands has not yet taken a definitive decision about final storage. However it has been decided that it must be possible to retrieve once stored radioactive waste.

Reducing the lifetime of high-level radioactive waste  (HLWR)

The Netherlands is taking part in European research into ways to shorten the lifecycle of high-level radioactive waste. This may be possible by means of:

  • further separation ('partitioning') on long-lived radioactive elements. This is comparable to reprocessing radioactive material;
  • converting materials with a long decay time into non-radioactive materials or materials that are radioactive for a much shorter time ('transmutation').

It is unlikely that these techniques will be commercially available in the short term.