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Nuclear Power in the Netherlands

(Updated June 2014)

  • The Netherlands has one nuclear reactor generating almost 4% of its electricity.  At least one large new unit is proposed.
  • Its first commercial nuclear power reactor began operating in 1973.
  • A previous decision to phase out nuclear power has been reversed. Public and political support is increasing for expanding nuclear energy.
  • Its main research reactor produces about 60% of Europe’s medical radioisotopes.

Nuclear power has a small role in the Dutch electricity supply, with the Borssele reactor providing about 3.9% of total generation – 4.0 billion kWh in 2012.

In 2012, a total of 102 billion kWh gross was generated. Natural gas provided 55.5 billion kWh (TWh), coal 27 TWh, biofuels & waste 9 TWh, and wind 5 TWh. Some 17 TWh net of electricity was imported in 2012, compared with 9.1 TWh in 2011, when the main net import was from Germany. Per capita consumption is about 6440 kWh/yr.

Nuclear industry development

In the 1930s, researchers at the Delft University of Technology became interested in the potential of nuclear energy, and stockpiled natural uranium which was later kept hidden from occupying forces. In the early 1950s this uranium was a basis for collaboration with Norway's Institute for Energy Technology in the Halden heavy-water research reactor at Kjeller.

In 1955 construction began on the Netherlands' own research reactor, the High Flux Reactor (HFR) at Petten. HFR was intended to help the country gain knowledge of nuclear technology and operations through materials research.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs had a strategy to develop a national industry capable of designing, manufacturing and exporting nuclear power technology. The ultimate aim was that nuclear power would be introduced from about 1962 to gradually replace much fossil fuel electricity generation.

In May 1965, construction started on the first nuclear power reactor in the Netherlands, a 55 MWe natural circulation boiling water reactor at Dodewaard.

The plant, intended as a test-bed for the national nuclear power industry, was connected to the grid in October 1968. It was operated by Joint Nuclear Power Plant Netherlands Ltd (GKN) until 1997, when it was shut-down for economic reasons.

The next nuclear power project was a commercial 452 MWe pressurised water reactor at Borssele, in the south west of the country. Construction started in July 1969 and the plant was connected to the grid in July 1973.

It was designed and built by Germany's Kraftwerk Union (Siemens). It is operated by Electricity Generating Company for the Southern Netherlands (EPZ) and was owned by Essent and Delta Energie (50% each). In 2006, following an extension of its operating life to 2033, a turbine upgrade boosted its capacity from 452 to 485 MWe.

In 2009 German utility RWE agreed to buy Essent for EUR 8.35 billion and then announced that it was prepared to build new nuclear capacity in Netherlands. At that time Essent owned half of EPZ. However, due to a statute regarding the plant’s ownership, the Essent takeover excluded the 50% stake in Borssele, so this was placed into a new company – Energy Resources Holding (ERH) – owned by the provincial and municipal authorities comprising Essent's original shareholders. The price paid by RWE dropped by EUR 950 million accordingly. In May 2011 Delta agreed with RWE that it would buy a further 20% of EPZ/ Borssele for EUR 137 million, and RWE agreed to pay EUR 609 million for the balance of ERH, giving it 30% ownership of EPZ/ Borssele. This was finalised in July 2011.

Operating Dutch power reactors

Reactors Type Net MWe First power scheduled close
Borssele
PWR
485
1973
2033

Nuclear energy policy

In the early 1960s, large natural gas reserves were discovered in The Netherlands. In combination with the public opinion impact of the Chernobyl accident, interest in nuclear energy diminished. In 1986, a new build project was shelved by order of the government.

In 1994 the Dutch parliament voted to phase out the Borssele nuclear power plant by 2003. The government however ran into legal difficulties to implement that decision. In 2003, the ruling conservative government coalition moved the closure date back to 2013, and in 2005 the phase-out decision was abandoned.

In June 2006, the Dutch government concluded a contract with the Borssele operators and shareholders. The reactor would be allowed to operate until 2034 on certain conditions: it would be maintained to the highest safety standards, and the stakeholders, Delta and Essent, agreed to invest  EUR 250 million towards sustainable energy projects. The government added another EUR 250 million, in the process avoiding the compensation claim they would have faced had they continued towards early shutdown.

Electricity production in the Netherlands has been liberalised. Several market parties have indicated their interest in building a new nuclear reactor in the country. Because of exhaustion of some of the natural gas fields, and increasing public acceptance of the environmental advantages of nuclear power, there was a marked shift in the position of some political parties in favour of new nuclear build.

In September 2006 the environment minister on behalf of the economics minister submitted to parliament a document entitled, Conditions for New Nuclear Power Plants. An accompanying statement said that the government wanted to move to a sustainable energy supply and that the abandonment of its earlier phase-out policy (deferring Borssele's shutdown to 2033-34) was part of a transition strategy, and nuclear power could reduce carbon emissions. A new nuclear reactor could also be fitted into this transition model.

Any new reactor must be a Generation III model with levels of safety being equivalent to those of Areva's EPR, at a coastal site. Before its operation, and no later than 2016, the government must decide on a disposal strategy for existing high-level waste. Used fuel should be stored until 2025, when a choice would be made between direct disposal, reprocessing, or partitioning and transmutation. Plants should be dismantled promptly after closure, and decommissioning funds clearly earmarked. Uranium should be sourced from certified, environmentally responsible mining operations, with in-situ leaching (ISL) preferred due to their low environmental impact.

In March 2008 the main advisory body of the Dutch government on national and international social and economic policy - the Social and Economic Council (SER) - said that the government should consider expanding nuclear energy in two years when it is due to evaluate its climate policies.

In the official government statement on taking office in October 2010, the incoming prime minister noted that the security of energy supply would remain a policy spearhead, along with efforts to cut carbon dioxide emissions in line with European targets. Hence "the government will be open to issuing permits for new nuclear power plants."

The coalition agreement of the incoming government then says: "Regarding energy supply, the Netherlands must become less reliant on other countries, high prices and polluting fuels. Energy security must be increased and more attention must be paid to the potential profitability of energy. Policy will be guided by the European sustainable energy goals. This entails a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions and 14% sustainable energy by 2020. To reduce CO2 emissions and energy dependence, more nuclear energy is necessary. Licensing applications to build one or more new nuclear power stations that satisfy the requirements will be granted. CO2 can be stored underground subject to strict safety standards and local support, but this question will only arise after a licence has been granted for a new nuclear power station." Also " Sustainable energy production must become competitive as quickly as possible" and subsidies for renewables will be cut back.

After two years negotiation, a wide-ranging Dutch Energy Accord supported by 46 organisations spanning all sections of the economy was concluded in September 2013. It has targets of 14% renewables by 2020, including 6000 MWe of onshore wind, and 100 PJ energy savings by 2020. Offshore wind could total 4450 MWe by 2020, depending on complex subsidies. The Accord is silent on nuclear, but says that CCS is “unavoidable’ in moving to a sustainable energy supply.

New nuclear capacity 

In September 2008 Delta (50% owner of EPZ and Borssele) announced that it would build a second unit at Borssele, of 1000-1600 MWe. In June 2009 it embarked upon seeking preliminary approvals for it from the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment (VROM). Delta proposed to start building in 2013 and have a 1600-2500 MWe plant operational in 2018, using MOX fuel. Delta started environmental assessment procedures, and after talks with potential partners in November 2010 signed an agreement with EdF. The partnership will explore incorporation of a joint development company. EdF said it was prepared to invest EUR 2 billion in a minority share of a new plant at Borssele. Should the project go ahead, it may include third parties as investors and to contract for the plant's output. Following the May 2011 buyout of Energy Resources Holding (ERH), RWE was reported as offering to underwrite 20% of the project. In January 2012 Delta put the project on hold for 2-3 years due to economic uncertainties.

When German utility RWE agreed to buy Essent for EUR 8.35 billion in 2009 it announced that it was prepared to build new nuclear capacity in Netherlands. Essent's share of EPZ was then placed into a new company – Energy Resources Holding (ERH) – owned by the provincial and municipal authorities comprising Essent's original shareholders. In September 2010 ERH applied to build a new nuclear plant at Borssele, quite separate from the Delta proposal. This was for a plant up to 2500 MWe, using one or two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors, an EPR or a BWR. Construction was envisaged from 2015, for operation in 2019, but this project is not proceeding.

Proposed Dutch power reactors

Reactors Type Gross MWe  Start construction Operation 
Borssele 2
PWR
1000-1600
2015-16
2020-21

ERH Borssele ? 1250-2500 2015 2019

Fuel cycle

The Netherlands had historically pursued research into the gas centrifuge method of uranium enrichment. Similar work had been under way in both Germany and the United Kingdom, and in 1970 an agreement (the Almelo Treaty) was signed by the three on collaboration in the endeavour. The result of the agreement was Urenco, a company jointly owned by the three governments.

In 1979 site works on Urenco enrichment plants began at Almelo in the eastern Netherlands, and Capenhurst, UK. The plants began commercial production of enriched uranium in 1981 and 1982 respectively. In 1985 production began at Gronau in western Germany and a Urenco plant based on the same technology is currently being built in New Mexico, USA.

In addition, Urenco have the contract to supply centrifuges for Areva's new enrichment plant in Pierrelatte, France, that will replace the large existing diffusion enrichment plant.

The production facility for Urenco's centrifuges is also located in Almelo in the Netherlands. 

Used nuclear fuel from Dodewaard was recycled at the UK's Thorp facility at Sellafield, and that from Borssele at France's La Hague. Areva NC, operators of La Hague, hold a contract to recycle Borssele used fuel until 2015. Some recycled uranium has been used in the plant for several years and from 2011 EPZ has approval to use MOX fuel (with 5.4% fissile Pu content) as 40% of the fuel load, and to replace 4.4% enriched fuel with compensated enriched reprocessed uranium (c-ERU) which will be 4.6% enriched to compensate for U-236 content.

Under the provisional Conditions for New Nuclear Power Plants document, used fuel from new plants would be stored until 2025 when a decision would be taken by government to choose between the preferred treatment of partition and transmutation, recycling as carried out today, or direct disposal.

Radioactive waste management

In the 1970s the Dutch government adopted a policy of reprocessing used nuclear fuel from both the Borssele and Dodewaard reactors. In 1984 it decided on a policy of long-term (100 years) interim storage of all the country's radioactive wastes; and a research strategy for their ultimate disposal.

This led to the establishment of the Central Organization for Radioactive Waste (COVRA), based at Borssele, close to the nuclear power station.

A low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste (LILW) management centre was commissioned at Borssele in 1992 which provides for storage of those materials.

In September 2003, COVRA's HABOG facility - an interim storage for high-level waste (HLW) was commissioned by Queen Beatrix.*  HABOG has two compartments, one for medium-level waste such as canisters containing fuel element claddings after reprocessing of their uranium contents; and one for the vitrified HLW returned after used fuel reprocessing (fission products and transuranics). It stores all the HLW from Dodewaard fuel reprocessed at Sellafield in UK, and all the waste returned from reprocessing Borssele fuel at La Hague.  A system of natural convection operates in the second compartment to cool the heat-generating HLW.

* Initial plans for HABOG foresaw a conservative white box-like design like almost every other nuclear facility. However, COVRA began to think about including a wall painting inside the facility loading hall. Discussions with local artist William Verstraeten developed along a theme of 'metamorphosis', in line with the decay of radionuclides in the stored waste. Over HABOG's 100-year life, its outside walls, decorated with Einstein's E=mc2 as well as Planck's E=hv will be progressively repainted in a range of colours from bright orange to white, mirroring the slowdown in heat production from the stored waste. In addition, four large prints depicting a local natural scene are placed around the inside of the facility, each one digitally altered. Three are backlit transparencies which 'decay' from full colour to bluish, to purple/reddish. The last picture, colourless and black, is printed on gold leaf. The confident image of HABOG and the theme of gaining value from decay have helped COVRA gain public acceptance.

Government policy is to eventually store HLW underground and to move towards that goal in a way such that each step is reversible. In 2001, the Government-sponsored Committee on Radioactive Waste Disposal (CORA) concluded that geological retrievable disposal is technically feasible in a safe manner, on several sites in the Netherlands.

In 2006, the Government proposed to make a decision about the siting for final disposal by 2016.

The 55 MWe Dodewaard reactor, shut down in 1997, is being decommissioned. In 2003 the last fissionable material was removed and parts of the plant were demolished. The main part will be sealed and monitored (in safestor) to-2045, before being demolished.

Regulation and safety

The 1963 Nuclear Energy Act sets out the basic rules for the use of nuclear materials in the Netherlands. There have been no major changes in this Act since, and the Government initiated in 2006 a project to modernise it. The Ministry of Economic Affairs is responsible for Energy, including nuclear power.

The revision of the Nuclear Energy Act, which is not finalised, would give the Ministry more control over nuclear power business by, among other things, limiting plant licenses to 40 years and by subjecting reprocessing contracts also to a licensing system.

The regulator is the Nuclear Energy Service (Kernfysische Dienst, KFD) is the supervisory authority for nuclear installations.

Research and Development

Most nuclear research in the Netherlands is carried out by the Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group (NRG), which is the product of a merger of the nuclear departments of the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN) and KEMA.

Main areas of international cooperation in research are: High-temperature reactor development (with Germany, Japan and South Africa); Actinide transmutation (with European partners); and mixed-oxide fuel development (with Japan).

Since it became operational in September 1960, the 45 MW HFR at Petten has been largely shifted from reactor materials testing to fundamental research and the production of medical radioisotopes. It provides about 60% of Europe's market for these. It is owned by the European Union's Joint Research Centre and operated by NRG under contract. In 2006, it was converted from highly-enriched uranium fuel to low-enriched (LEU) fuel.  In August 2008 it closed down to resolve a technical problem and restarted in mid February 2009, but with some chronic problems continuing. HFR's technical lifespan ends in 2015. 

NRG initiated a project to replace HFR with a new high-flux research reactor called PALLAS located in Petten. In October 2009 cabinet recommended to parliament that a replacement reactor be built. In January 2012 the government approved the new PALLAS reactor and the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation said that the government and the province of Noord-Holland would each provide €40 million for the design, procurement and licensing procedure. NRG would progress licensing and call for tenders. In 2008, three companies bid to supply the reactor: Areva NP, INVAP and KAERI (with Korea Power Engineering and Doosan), but no funds were available then and the bids lapsed in 2010. New bids were then sought. In December 2013 the Pallas Reactor Preparation Foundation took over the project from NRG, with €80 million funding for a fresh start on design, procurement and licensing. The Foundation will be responsible for attracting funding for construction and commissioning.

PALLAS is likely to be a pool type reactor with about 55 MW power, delivering 300 full-power days per year. Design is to be completed in 2017 and construction by 2023. Cost is expected to be about €580 million.

The 2 MW HOR pool-type research reactor has operated at the Delft University of Technology for Academic Research since 1963. It was fully converted to LEU in 2005 and is used for isotope production, neutron scattering and activation analysis. In mid-2014 KAERI with Hyundai won a €19 million tender to refurbish and upgrade the reactor to 3 MW, and build a cold neutron facility.

Non-proliferation

The Netherlands ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1975 and the Additional Protocol in came into force with the ratification by the European Union via Euratom on 30 April 2004.

Sources:
IAEA 2003, Country Nuclear Power Profiles.
Nuclear Legislation in OECD Countries, Regulatory and Institutional Framework for Nuclear Activities, OECD NEA, 2003.
Radioactive Waste Management Programs in OECD/NEA Member Countries, OECD/NEA 2005.
Nuclear Engineering International, Feb 2006.
With thanks to Jan Wieman of EPZ.