Belgium agrees to extend two nuclear power plants past 2025

BRUSSELS, March 18 (Reuters) - Belgium said on Friday it will extend the life of its nuclear energy beyond 2025 after the Russian invasion of Ukraine forced the governing coalition to consider its plans to rely more on natural gas.

The decision means that two reactors, known as Doel 4 and Tihange 3, will keep running for another 10 years in a reversal of an earlier plan first proposed in 2003 to phase out all of Belgium’s reactors by 2025.

“Everyone knows there is a war in Europe ... we choose certainty in uncertain times,” Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told a news conference. “We have decided ... that the two reactors can be extended by 10 years,” he said.

French utility Engie operates the two plants, which came into service in 1985, and must now agree.

Belgium’s nuclear switch-off had initially relied on a shift to natural gas, including a gas-fired plant to be built just north of Brussels.

However, the European Union aims to cut dependency on Russian gas by two-thirds this year and end its reliance before 2030, according to a proposal by the European Commission, the EU executive.

De Croo said Belgium would also seek to accelerate its transition to renewable energy.

Tihange is a 1,038 megawatt reactor in eastern Belgium. Doel is a 1,039 MW reactor near the port city of Antwerp. The reactors make up 35% of the country’s nuclear energy capacity. (Reporting by Robin Emmott Editing by Alistair Bell)