Belgium reaches initial deal with Engie to prolong nuclear power

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A logo on the Engie exhibition space at the Viva Technology conference dedicated to innovation and startups at Porte de Versailles exhibition center in Paris, France June 15, 2022. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

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BRUSSELS, July 22 (Reuters) - Belgium has reached an initial accord with French utility group Engie (ENGIE.PA) to extend the use of nuclear power by 10 years after Russia's invasion of Ukraine forced the government to rethink plans to rely more on natural gas.

Engie's subsidiary Electrabel and the Belgian state signed a "non-binding letter of intent" and aimed to negotiate a binding legal agreement by the end of 2022, the government and Engie said on Friday.

Belgium was to have exited nuclear power entirely in 2025, but now wants to extend the lives of its two newest reactors, Doel 4 and Tihange 3, with a restart in November 2026.

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Energy minister Tinne Van der Straeten told a news conference that Belgium's decision in March to stick with nuclear power was part of efforts to avoid reliance on fossil fuel imports with Russia proving an unreliable gas supplier. Belgium's nuclear switch-off relied on a shift to gas.

"Since then it has become clearer how much energy is a matter of national security," she said.

The head of Engie Belgium previously said Belgium's decision had come too late, but the Belgian government said talks had been constructive and both sides had set the outlines for a future agreement. However, Belgium

"This accord is a first crucial step and an important sign of trust between both parties," Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo wrote on Twitter.

"The intention is a final agreement by the end of this year so that our country is assured of sufficient electricity in turbulent geopolitical times," he said.

That agreement would include creating a 50:50 joint venture to manage the units and capping the future liabilities and costs to manage waste and spent fuel.

The reactors, which entered service in 1985, account for 35% Belgium's nuclear power capacity with about 2 gigawatts combined.

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Reporting by Valentine Baldassari and Phiip Blenkinsop; Editing by Jason Neely and Edmund Blair

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