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A short history of nuclear power and anti-nuclear movement in Spain

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Special: The magazine of hope

(October 16, 1998) Nuclear power started in Spain in 1951 when the governmental research and development body Junta de Energia Nuclear (JEN) was created. Franco's dictatorship was interested in controlling the new technology for military, economical and radiation protection purposes. According to the first national Energy Plan from 1975, nuclear power capacity should be 35,000 MW in 1992.

(499/500.4928) Jaume Morron - In April 1964 the first Spanish law on nuclear power was published and one year later the construction was started of the first nuclear power plant for electricity generation, Zorita, which was connected to the grid in December 1968. Other reactors would come quite soon after: Garoña (1971) and Vandellòs-1 (1972).
On January 24 1975, the first National Energy Plan was published. Nuclear power was expected to play a tremendous role in supplying Spanish electricity needs for the 10 years to come: target was to have a nuclear capacity of 24,000 MW in 1985 and 35,000 MW in 1992. But a new version of the National Energy Plan was approved in July 1979, dropping planned nuclear capacity for 1990 down to 12,671 MW.
Between 1981 and 1985, five reactors were connected to the grid, with a total capacity of 4,695 MW: Almaraz-1 and 2, Ascó-1 and 2, Almaraz-2 and Cofrentes.
The third version of the National Energy Plan was published on June 28, 1984. The recently elected Socialist government decided to keep nuclear power capacity at 7,829 MW. Only two new nuclear power plants would be allowed to finish construction and start operation: Vandellòs-2, a 982-MW PWR (1988) and Trillo-1, 1,032 MW PWR (1990). In just 10 years Spanish nuclear dreams were cut by almost five.

This was, of course, both a consequence of non-economically viable projects and the growing opposition to nuclear power, which was already born under Franco's dictatorship. In very difficult conditions of prosecution and even jail for activists, this movement had a particular success in the Basque country. With the support of city councils and all political parties, and after succeeding in the giving up by the centralized government in Madrid of some nuclear projects on the Basque coast, the movement concentrated its efforts in fighting the two nuclear reactors being build in Lemoniz, some few kilometers from the capital of Bilbao. General public mobilization included impressive demonstrations, some coordinated blackouts, thousands of speeches in villages and towns. After years of silence, the armed group ETA (fighting for Basque independence) joined in and attacked electric facilities linked to the plant. Hundreds of electric high-tension pylons and distribution stations were bombed and two managers of the nuclear power plant were killed. In September 1982, construction was stopped at both Lemoniz reactors and later on the government decided to phase them out.

On Thursday, October 19, 1989, a hydrogen explosion started a fire in one of the two turbines at the Vandell¢s-1 nuclear reactor. The fire continued for almost four and a half hours and seriously affected two of the four connections from the turbine to the plant's cooling system. The reactor was shut down and initially expected to remain down for at least six months. The owner, a Spanish-French consortium, had plans to start it again with only one turbine, at 50% capacity.
After the fire, local anti-nuclear movement rose up strongly to avoid the restaring of the plant. The opposition was led by the village of l'Ametlla de Mar, 10 km south of the reactor. An anti- nuclear committee was set up almost immediately after the accident to mobilize people and put pressure on the government not to allow any repairs at the plant and to stop operation forever. A general strike was held in the area in conjunction with a people's referendum in which over 90% of the residents voted against the plant. Thousands of people demonstrated in front of the plant several times, often with women in the front lines holding the banners and leading the crowd. All these actions forced nuclear safety officials to ask for improvements before allowing the reactor to operate again and, later, to decide to close down the plant because of the enormous and complicated expenses involved in the issue. Without such opposition it is doubtful that any of the safety requirements would even have been asked of the plant owners. WISE News Communiquecovered pretty well the eight months between the fire at Vandellòs-1 and the closing of the reactor.

The Spanish Minister of Industry officially announced on May 30, 1990, that Vandellòs-1 nuclear power reactor would no longer be allowed to operate. On June 3, 1990, a celebration in front of the main entrance of the plant was held.
Now, almost 10 years after what was, according to the Spanish Nuclear Safety Council, "the worst accident in a nuclear power plant in Spain", the movement against nuclear power has certainly decreased, but it is not dead. It still keeps capacity to react to coming important issues mainly related to the storage of high-level radioactive wastes. Some 20,000 people demonstrated on March 8, 1998, in Torrecampo (Córdoba) against rumors that a high-level waste dumpsite was going to be built in the area. The demonstration took place even after the government formally declared that no decision on high- level radioactive wastes storage would be taken before the year 2010, and until then wastes would be dry-stored at the nuclear reactors sites.

Uranium mining has come to an end in Spain. In early 1998 ENUSA, the Spanish Uranium Mining company, announced its plan to close down the only mine in operation in Spain, Saelices El Chico close to the border with Portugal, in the year 2000. Reason for this decision is the production costs of uranium in such a mine, far above international market prices, which have caused loses of US$10 million to the company. The Saelices mine is actually supplying about 300 tons/year of U3O8, 20% of the Spanish nuclear industry needs.

Vandellòs-1 decommissioning has just started, and will not be finished before the year 2002. Decommissioning is to stop at level 2, with no action on the reactor core, which is to be left for 30 years before starting of level 3 decommissioning.
A final decision on what to do with high-level radioactive wastes has not been taken yet. The government has postponed all decisions on this matter until the year 2010 when it is expected that the Parliament would review the issue and is supposed to take a decision.
October next year will be the 10th anniversary of Vandellòs-1 fire, which led to the definite closure of the reactor. Some celebrations are to be organized, together with public conferences and meetings on the actual development of nuclear power in Spain, Europe and the world, and on alternatives to this way of producing electricity. Perhaps this opportunity of putting people together again will help to keep the fire burning......

Source and Contact: Jaume Morron, Apartado De Correos 741, 46080 Tarragona, Spain.