In the eyes of Google Maps, the road that leads to Trillo from the Barcelona highway looks like a line barely one centimeter wide, a serpentine stream that borders the towns of Cifuentes, Gárgoles de Abajo and Azañón to the bridge over the Tagus River. On the asphalt, the view is quite different, and what looks like smoke is striking, an eternal column visible several kilometers above the trees. Below, two chimneys, a fenced complex and a nuclear power plant that makes you forget that you are not in Springfield, but in a town in Guadalajara.
What is not seen with the naked eye, neither from Google Maps nor from the road, is that these two columns of smoke are the main engine of the La Alcarria Alta region. It all comes together there, at the Trillo nuclear power plant, one of the seven reactors that remain active in Spain and that is now on the razor’s edge. The reason: the threat of plant closure by the lobby electricity as a measure of pressure to the Government.
The ordeal of the main companies in the sector puts in check, at least directly, the more than 28,000 employees of the five nuclear power plants throughout Spain, but its impact would be much greater due to the hole it would generate in the communities. Here, in towns like Trillo -1,300 inhabitants- and their neighbors, employs about 700 permanent people and 2,000 temporary, and everyone knows how nuclear energy works, where it comes from and where it is going. Not surprisingly, it will soon be 40 years since uranium changed their lives.
“The people would die”
Juan knows it better than anyone. He arrived at Trillo when he was 5 years old and began to work at the plant in 1982, the same year that construction began. During all this time he has passed through practically all the dependencies and sections until this very week, in which he decided to retire as the oldest of the reactor. It started in construction, in quality control, then in the technical maintenance office, later in logistics and now, finally, in contracting services. Always five kilometers from home.
“I have always worked for the Trillo nuclear power plant, not for Iberdrola [principal propietaria]. If they closed it, the town would die, and the whole region with it, “he tells EL ESPAÑOL on the morning of his retirement. In March 2019, the Government and the electricity companies agreed on the closing schedule of all reactors in our country. Trillo, being one of the last to be built, will be one of the last to close, and they set the deadline for the year 2035. Now it could be anticipated.
Here they know well what that means. Its inhabitants have already seen how in 2006 the area suffered the closure of the José Cabrera de Zorita power plant, less than an hour’s drive away, and with it a further boost to what is now known as the Spain emptied. Trillo could find himself in the same situation: without a central, without an economic escape and with the general feeling of having wasted the nuclear mana for something more than fattening the income of the municipalities.
“They pay a lot of IBIs, a lot of salaries and a lot of fees to all the surrounding towns. Trillo takes millions of euros every year just for close to the plant, ”says Juan. Only in concept of IBI, the city council enters around 7 million euros per year, which means a budget per inhabitant of 5,000 euros, much more than in Madrid or Guadalajara itself.
The National Radioactive Waste Company (Enresa) takes over, which has been paying more than 100 municipalities near nuclear power plants for more than 30 years. Compensating the localities is one of its great management expenses (8% per year), but above all it has meant close 600 million euros between 1989 and 2018 that, otherwise, would not have reached towns like Trillo. For some, it is the payment to live 20 kilometers from uranium; for others, bread for today and hunger for tomorrow.
A matter of time
However, the general opinion is that the goose that lays the golden eggs of the nuclear power plant will soon disappear. For Pablo, who at 55 years old works in one of the collaborating companies of the plant, never with a permanent job, the time trial is increasingly close to ending. He takes care of us during his vacations with his wife and son, who on occasion has enjoyed temporary contracts during recharge times, once a year.
“If they do not close it now, they will do so within three years, when the moratorium ends and they do not renew the plant,” he told this newspaper. “Years ago they prepared a second reactor and in the end they did not build it, so it’s a matter of time that paralyze everything ”, he specifies.
What Pablo is referring to is the deadlines that the plants have to meet in order to be viable and safe. In June 2017, the Government of Mariano Rajoy changed the law so that each plant could submit its renewal applications the same year the license expires. In the case of Trillo, the activity is guaranteed until November 17, 2024 Unless the utilities follow through on their closure threats.
In addition to Pablo’s salary, the list of benefits derived from Trillo’s economic power could also come to an end once the plant is dismantled: the free water bill, not having a garbage fee, subsidies for changing electrical appliances, Wi-Fi free or aid to the elderly. In the eyes of this family, precisely, these are the only two engines of the town: the central and the nursing home: “They are the ones that give and move more work. If they close, the people will die ”.
It is clear, this is only one of the five cases of nuclear power plants in Spain. If all the plants are added, the sector employs more than 28,000 people in a stable way but, as with Trillo, its influence and weight in the populations goes much further.
In Tarragona there are three reactors: two in the town of Ascó and one in that of Vandellós. Between them they do not add up to 8,000 inhabitants, but only the centrals employ about 2,300 permanent workers between direct jobs and collaborating companies; almost all belong to the region. In recharge times, every 18 months, the number shoots up another 1,000, with half of them living in nearby towns.
Something similar happens in Almaraz (1,800 inhabitants), also with two reactors and recharges every 18 months. The plant, located in the province of Cáceres, was the first to be built in Spain and its nearly 1,300 workers are responsible for 7% of the energy consumed by our country, cooled by the waters of the same Tagus that accompanies Trillo.
For his part Chests (Valencia), with a single reactor, employs about 1,000 people directly and another 1,000 indirectly. In recharge periods, every 24 months, the number grows to 3,300.
Spain does not have gas, so it depends on imports that come mainly from Algeria and Russia. In parallel, as China and Japan consume more gas than ever in the history of mankind, the increased demand has caused prices to skyrocket and, at the last link in the chain, you suffer it in your pocket.
Of course, nothing is that simple, and on many occasions Spain has to turn to its favorite electrical ally, France, to buy the energy it generates with its own nuclear power plants. There, our neighbors supply 78% of the energy they need to run factories with reactors, they have fewer tax penalties for using it and they even understand it as one more “green energy”.
Another song is the waste it generates. The seven Spanish reactors account for 33% of our electricity, and it does not pollute … at least in part. Juan points out that nuclear energy is “one of the least harmful to the environment” -do not worry about the smoke columns: they are water vapor-, but your problem is radioactive waste, buried sine die on nuclear cemeteries. Spain keeps the majority, precisely, in cemeteries in France, to which it has paid more than 110 million euros since 2017 to take care of its radioactive waste.
In 2020 alone, the accumulated fines totaled 96 million, at a rate of almost 77,000 euros per day, although Enresa expects to recover most of the money before 2028, when these materials are returned. By then, the French bill for taking over our radioactive substances could exceed 300 million euros. In Trillo, Almaraz, Cofrentes, Ascó and Vandellós, criticism is frequent, and the electricity companies prefer to refer only to the plate they have seen so many times, at the entrance to the power plants. Caution.
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