In December 2016, Belgium adopted a law to improve compensation for potential victims of a nuclear incident. This law aims to ensure Belgium's compliance with the amended Paris Convention on nuclear third party liability from the moment the Convention enters into force. Under the Belgian law, the liable nuclear operator would have to compensate victims up to €1.2 billion for up to 30 years after a nuclear incident occurred. The compensation would cover injuries to persons and property damage, as well as environmental damage, economic losses and the cost of preventive measures taken by the Belgian State in the aftermath of an incident.
Nuclear operators are obliged to financially secure their liability towards victims. They do so mostly by taking insurance on the private insurance market. However, it is expected that some nuclear damages covered by the amended Paris Convention cannot be covered by the nuclear insurance market. Belgium will put in place a state guarantee scheme to cover those nuclear damages that cannot be covered by private insurance. Under this scheme, the nuclear operator will pay an annual premium to benefit from the state guarantee. In case a nuclear incident occurs and if the state guarantee is called, the nuclear operator would however remain liable for nuclear damages and the State could then recover the amounts paid under the guarantee from the nuclear operator.
In March 2017, Belgium notified this measure to the Commission for assessment under EU state aid rules. Under the EU Treaties, Member States are free to determine their energy mix and have the choice to invest in nuclear technology. The Commission's role is to ensure that when public funds are used to support companies, this is done in line with EU state aid rules, which aim to preserve competition in the Single Market.
The Commission found that, in the case of Belgium, the premium to be paid by the nuclear operators to benefit from the state guarantee was set at such a level that it will not give them an economic advantage. The Commission also found that the premium is expensive enough to avoid crowding out the private insurance market – there are sufficient incentives for private players to develop competitive offers to replace the need for the State guarantee.
The Commission established that the Belgian state guarantee aims to improve compensation of victims of a nuclear incident, without granting any economic advantage to nuclear operators. In the absence of any advantage, the Commission concluded that the Belgian state guarantee does not involve state aid within the meaning of EU rules.
Like 12 other Member States of the European Union, Belgium is a signatory of the Paris Convention on nuclear third party liability. This Convention was amended in 2004 to increase the amounts of compensation and extend the scope of damages which can be compensated. The 2004 Amendment Protocol has not yet entered into force.
To prepare for its entry into force, Belgium is putting in place a state guarantee to cover those categories of nuclear damage which the nuclear insurance market has difficulties in covering. It is however expected that the entry into force of the Protocol will allow the private insurance market to develop also for these nuclear damages. There are sufficient incentives for private players to develop competitive offers to replace the need for the State guarantee, so that nuclear operators would eventually cover their entire liability on the private market.
The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.46602 in the state aid register on the DG Competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. The State Aid Weekly e-News lists new publications of state aid decisions on the internet and in the EU Official Journal.