Nuclear costs doom its future in Spain

  • Spanish plants lose money and have not found a solution to isolate radioactive waste

  • The Government maintains the phased closure plan despite the reactivation of the sector in part of Europe and China

The global energy crisis has reopened the appetite for nuclear energy, an energy that does not generate greenhouse gases Like the fossil fuels nor is it exposed to the instability that meteorology imposes on renewables. France will build again atomic power plants after many years of hiatus, and the United Kingdom has just awarded a millionaire grant to Rolls Royce to raise small modular reactors. Much more ambitious are the plans China to reduce their dependence on coal. The Asian giant plans 150 reactors for the next 15 years, more than the world has built in the last three decades. This impulse does not end there because the European Commission is considering designating nuclear as a “green & rdquor; energy; with the backing of several countries, a status that would facilitate the financing of new reactors.

Spain He has no plans to join the radioactive party. Either Denmark, Luxembourg the Germany, which divorced the Atom after the Fukushima disaster a decade ago. But the debate rages again as in the most turbulent times of a Spanish atomic park which began operating in the eighties. The National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC) contemplates the gradual closure of the seven reactors that are still active between 2027 and 2035. Last year they generated the 22.1% of all electricity consumed, more than any other source of energy, although very close to the wind (21.8%). “Nothing has changed regarding this commitment & rdquor;, said this week the Ministry of Ecological Transition, which intends to comply with the planned schedule, against the position of the PP or Vox. The intention of the Executive is to replace that capacity with renewables, a challenge that will imply, according to the calculations of the PNIEC, install 6 gigawatts (GW) of renewable power annually until the final closure of the five plants still active.

Its closure was agreed with the electrical, owners of the plants, a business dominated by Iberdrola, Endesa and Naturgy. “The electricity market in Spain was liberalized in 1997. Any company could have proposed the construction of new nuclear plants, but they have not done so,” says Eloy Sanz, PhD in Chemical Engineering and member of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “The plants are not profitable. So much for their construction deadlines as for their costs, They are risky investments that pay very high interest rates, much more than a solar plant, which in a year and a half is operational & rdquor ;.

Economically unviable

For example, the Iberdrola company at the helm of its nuclear business lost 1,256 million euros between 2012 and 2017, as published by Europa Press. “It is not economically viable & rdquor;, recognized its president, Ignacio Sánchez Galán, that same year. Your company has interests in the power plants Almaraz I and II (53%), Trillo (48%), Vandellós (28%) and Ascó II (fifteen%). That is, five of the seven reactors that remain operational.

Nor are the costs of new plants in the West particularly attractive. The French central of Flamanville carries 14 years in construction and will have a final cost of 12,400 million euros, five times more than initially budgeted. “There is an added factor & rdquor ;, assures Pedro Fresco, energy expert and director of the Ecological Transition of the Valencian Community. “Its owners foresee that electricity will be much cheaper in the future, as generation with renewables increases. Hence they do not want to continue with the current conditions & rdquor ;.

That last sentence is key. The industry would like to extend the life of its reactors – which have a mean age 34 years, four more than the world average, according to Greenpeace – but not without guarantees of benefits. The industry complains about the high taxation it faces, to which it has added the investments in security that it had to undertake after the Fukushima disaster. According to Nuclear Forum, 60% of the revenues of the plants goes to taxes. “It’s only half true,” says Fresco. “It is true that taxation is high but a part is dedicated to store waste and manage them once the plants are dismantled. When that happens, we will realize that the money is insufficient and the taxpayer will have to assume it through the State & rdquor ;.

Radioactive waste

Along with the risk of nuclear accidents, which had its most dramatic episode in Spain in Vandellós I (1989), waste management is the heaviest cross in the industry. “They preserve their radioactive properties during tens of thousands of years and yet there is no way to effectively isolate them. It has not been achieved in any part & rdquor ;, assures Fernando Prieto, director of the Sustainability Observatory. “Spain can no longer export them to France and they are being left at the plants because no one wants a nuclear graveyard near their home”.

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Nuclear advocates argue that, at the very least, they should remain as support for renewables. And, more, considering that the pace set by the Government to replace them with new renewables is not being met. Faced with the goal of adding 6 Gw per year, 3.7 Gw were installed last year and this year they are around 2 Gw to date. “In part it is due to the pandemic, but also to a certain administrative collapse due to the number of applications received and the growing social rejection against large photovoltaic or wind macroprojects,” says Fresco.

Which does not mean that the objectives will not be met. “It is possible, but you have to bet more on renewables. Germany has two million roofs with solar panels, here we only have 40,000 & rdquor ;, assures Prieto from the Sustainability Observatory. “You have to give more facilities. Today you need 19 procedures to install a plate on your roof. Wow, you prefer to die before. You have to give them away or liberalize the entire sector because we are still very tied to electricity companies & rdquor ;.

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