On June 11, more than 1,500 people, summoned by more than 45 organizations, participated in a demonstration for the closure of the Almaraz nuclear power plant in the town of Cáceres, in the south-west of Spain, close to Portugal. The participant groups were from both Portugal and Spain and included social, environmental and political organizations.
The call came from the recently created Movimiento Ibérico Antinuclear (Iberian Antinuclear Movement), aiming to join the efforts of Spanish and Portuguese activists in order to stop the Spanish nuclear power plants, which can affect the two countries, and to stop uranium mining projects close to the common border.
The demonstration was festive and colorful and included dancing, music, theatre, flash mobs, and other activities. The day culminated in a protest march.
The goal of the demonstration was to call for the closure of Almaraz when its present operating licence ends in 2020. We also called for the definitive closure of Garoña nuclear plant, which has been shut down since December 2012 and is the oldest of the Spanish nuclear plants, and for the closure of all the Spanish nuclear power plants when their current operating licences end. This means that the last plant would close in 2024.
Almaraz is composed of two PWR reactors with a total capacity of about 2,100 MW, with cooling water from the Arrocampo dam, in the Tajo river. The first reactor started in 1981 and the second in 1983, so they are 35 and 33 years old. Almaraz reactors have a long story of incidents, including two leakages of radioactive water and the corrosion of their six steam generators, which had to be changed in the 1990s. The new steam generators are supposed to be corrosion-proof, but the first symptoms of corrosion have been already detected. Almaraz has had several emissions of excessively hot water that have caused the death of a lot of fish, decreasing the quality of the river water.
The most recent and serious incident is related to the pumps of the essential services water (ESW). The ESW system is a basic element for the safe operation of the nuclear power plant. Among other important functions, the system guarantees that the reactor cooling works properly, since the primary circuit pumps are cooled by the ESW.
The plant has four identical ESW pumps that take water from the Arrocampo dam, plus a spare one. A common problem was detected in the five pumps: a piece that avoids the oil scape can break causing the pumps stop working. Two pumps failed in September 2015 and January 2016. Instead of stopping the plant, the operators decided to continue with the reactors operating at the highest power level and to repair the ESW pumps one by one, without stopping. This option was based on the report presented by Areva, after the scandal of the fake safety protocols and was approved by the Spanish regulator, the Consejo de Seguridad Nuclear (CSN, Nuclear Safety Council).
On top of that, the CSN did not force the operator to repair the floodgates of the reactors, which are not able to protect the cores of the two reactors in case of a dam break. The owners of Almaraz want to keep the plant working since it generates revenue of more than €1 million per day in the Spanish electricity market that favors the NPPs.
All these events have worried Portuguese citizens and politicians, since an accident in Almaraz would affect that country: radioactive isotopes can travel by the air and by the Tajo river. The Portuguese Parliament voted unanimously for the closure of Almaraz, as well as the Lisbon City Council.
After Garoña, Almaraz is the oldest one in Spain. In 2020, a decision will be taken on how long the plant should operate. There has been a political debate on how long nuclear plants can operate. The conservative People's Party wants to extend the lifespan to up to 60 years, but the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party wants to restrict the reactors to a 40-year lifespan. The position of the Citizens Party (Ciudadanos) is not clear, but they are not against nuclear power and probably have a similar position to the People's Party.
The Movimiento Ibérico Antinuclear argues against any lifespan extensions. This would result in the closure of Almaraz I and II in 2020 and the closure of the last nuclear plant in Spain in 2024. Unidos Podemos ‒ a left-wing electoral alliance ‒ supports this proposal. The results of the recent Spanish election make it difficult to promptly close the nuclear plants: the People's Party increased its parliamentary representation while the Workers' Party and Unidos Podemos did not do as well.
Nevertheless, we, the Iberian antinuclear activists, will continue trying to convince people and politicians that keeping the nuclear plants operating is a dangerous mistake.