Amid a Europe-wide debate over the future of nuclear power in a renewable energy future, Spain has rolled out a schedule to close its seven nuclear power plants. This move comes as the government proposes an ambitious clean energy plan to shift away from fossil fuels completely by 2050.
Spain’s main electricity providers have reached a deal to close the Almaraz nuclear power plant in western Spain, in line with the Spanish government’s plans to shut down all seven of the country’s nuclear plants by 2035. Almaraz, the country’s oldest nuclear plant, is jointly owned by Iberdrola, Endesa, and Naturgy, who last week agreed to invest a combined 400 million euros – and up to 600 million if necessary – to operate the plant until its two reactors are closed in 2027 and 2028. The plan also guaranteed employment at the plant for the next 20 to 25 years, through the end of operations, and the long process of safely shutting down and decommissioning the facility.
The deal to close the Almaraz plan is paving the way for further negotiations about the closure of Spain’s other nuclear plants. For example, Iberdrola and Endesa, who together own the Vandellos II nuclear plant in Catalonia, have applied to the Ecological Transition Ministry for a ten-year extension of the plant’s operations, a prerequisite to reaching an agreement to finance the plant until it is closed.
Nuclear power currently provides close to 20% of the country’s electricity, but the Spanish government hopes to shift away from this energy source by 2035. Next slated to close, in 2029, is Endesa’s Asco I reactor in Tarragona, followed by Iberdrola’s Cofrentes reactor in Valencia the next year. Asco II and Vandellos plants, jointly owned by these two companies, will respectively close in 2033 and 2034. Last to close in 2035 will be the Trillo plant, where Endesa, Iberdrola, and Naturgy all own shares.
14 EU states produce nuclear power; in France, Belgium, Slovakia, and Hungary, nuclear energy makes up the majority of electricity production. Italy, in contrast, phased out its nuclear plants in 1990, while Portugal and Greece opted out of this power source. Safety and environmental concerns, reinforced by meltdowns such as Chornobyl in 1986, and the 2011 Fukushima disaster, have convinced many Europeans that nuclear power’s risks outweigh its benefits. […]
Nuclear energy does not fit neatly into either side of the energy debate. In Belgium, for instance, nuclear power is being phased out to mitigate safety risks and environmental hazards – only to be replaced by gas-fired plants. France, on the other hand, continues to build more nuclear plants to decrease fossil fuel consumption. Each EU member state decides its own nuclear policy, leading to international tensions over national policy. For example, nuclear-free Luxembourg plans to vote to allow its citizens to sue Belgian nuclear producers, in the event of a cross-border accident. Spain plans to dump the nuclear waste from the Almaraz plant at a site 100 km from the Portuguese border, near the Tegus River that flows through Lisbon. The Portuguese government has registered complaints with the EU, alleging that Spain did not take into account the cross-border impact when approving the plan. Aside from “stress tests” assessing the safety of plants across Europe, the EU has not spelled out clear directives on nuclear power, and so the debate among member states will continue.