* Petroplus to close French, Belgian refinery * Imports, strong supply will limit impact * Inland nations more vulnerable LONDON, Dec 30 (Reuters) - European motorists and households should expect a smooth start to 2012, free from shortages or queues for fuel, even if Europe's largest independent refiner shuts all five of its plants, because rival suppliers will jump into the breach. Cash-strapped Petroplus will begin shutting down its Antwerp refinery on Sunday or Monday unless crude shipments arrive, a union in Belgium said, and it is closing down its 162,000 barrel per day Petit Couronne plant in France on Monday. There is no assurance that its three other plants -- Ingolstadt in Germany, Cressier in Switzerland and Coryton in Britain -- will remain operational, which means other refiners would have to ramp up processing to fill the gap. But excessive refining capacity in Europe means this can be easily achieved. Rivals will be more than happy to process more crude after the profitability of turning crude into products -- or margins in industry jargon -- jumped this week after Petroplus revealed its troubles with creditors. U.S. refiners, which traditionally ship large volumes of diesel to Europe, also will be happy to make up for any Petroplus deliveries. "The collapse of the Petroplus refining system in Europe would be good news for the U.S. Gulf refiners, because there is not enough demand in the U.S. for their level of refinery utilisation, hence the U.S. Gulf refineries will need to maintain a high level of product exports," said Olivier Jakob, with the Petromatrix consultancy. Petroplus accounts for more than 4 percent of the European Union's refining capacity, but previous overcapacity in the market, slack demand in the midst of a euro debt crisis and the ability to replace lost capacity with imports from the United States and Asia mean that end-users will not be severely affected if the refineries shut. WHOLESALE MARKET, NOT RETAIL Traders' costs and wholesale prices are likely to rise ultimately, but that rarely translates into hikes in retail prices, which are much more affected by changes in taxation. A nationwide refiners' strike in France in 2010, which knocked out much more refining capacity, led to a massive change in flow of oil and oil products across the continent and led to some local shortages but still had a minimal impact on prices at the pump. "Import substitutions are relatively straightforward for coastal locations," said Alan Gelder, head of Oils Research at Wood Mackenzie, adding that inland locations such as Switzerland could present some challenges. "The closure of sites such as Cressier will be a lot more movement of products down the Rhine and benefits (other) refiners inland such as Exxon and Shell," Gelber said. But Niklaus Boss, director general of the Swiss oil industry body, said the closure of the Petroplus Swiss refinery should not lead to major problems there. "It supplies 25 percent of the Swiss market, but we have so many other ways to get imports of crude and products. There is the pipeline from Marseille and railways as well as ships on the Rhine. We can cover it without any problem." Oil products such as gasoline, diesel and heating oil are barged down the Rhine. A dry autumn in Europe led to low water levels that increased the cost of freight, but these costs retreated recently as the river rose due to higher rainfall. Gasoil futures have gained over 1 percent this week, while Brent crude has lost nearly 1 percent, and the gasoil premium to Brent is up around 12 percent to around $16 a barrel.