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Spain: Garoña nuclear plant to be decommissioned

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Francisco Castejón ‒ Ecologistas en Acción and Iberian Antinuclear Movement

Santa María de Garoña is the oldest Spanish nuclear power plant, having begun commercial operation in 1971. It is located in the north of Burgos, very close to the Baske Country, and it is in the beginning of Ebro river, one of the most important Spanish rivers. The Garoña reactor is a 466 MW boiling water reactor, identical to reactor #1 at Fukushima-Daiichi. The nuclear plant is operated by NUCLENOR, which is owned by the main Spanish electricity enterprises ENDESA and IBERDROLA.

Garoña was stopped unilaterally by NUCLENOR in December 2012 to pressure the government for more favorable tax arrangements. This was a real advantage for the anti-nuclear side since it demonstrated that Garoña is not necessary at all. Since that date, a strong debate has ensued between the companies, the government, and anti-nuclear NGOs.

Garoña is affected by serious safety problems as described in reports by the Spanish regulator, the Consejo de Seguridad Nuclear (Nuclear Safety Council). In spite of this, this regulator issued a positive report in February 2017 for the continuation of Garoña. This was a scandal, but not new, since the regulator has been issuing positive reports since 2009 despite Garoña's safety problems.

The report issued in 2017 allowed for the continuation of Garoña provided a large number of refurbishments are performed. The cost of this work could be more than €300 million ... and it would still be an aging plant that could fail again at any time. Given these economic and technical uncertainties, IBERDROLA announced that it did not want to continue with Garoña, but ENDESA was in favour of restarting the reactor.

On top of that, Spanish society is demanding more transparency, more democracy and a fair distribution of benefits and risks. Therefore, social pressure increased and became political pressure: the Spanish Parliament voted for the closure of Garoña after the regional parliaments of Baske Country, La Rioja and Aragon called for its closure.

Finally, under the weight of all these social and political pressures, the Spanish government took the decision to definitively stop Garoña. Energy Minister Álvaro Nadal announced on August 1 that the government had decided not to approve the renewal of Garoña's operating licence after studying 17 opinions submitted by institutions, associations and companies involved in the process, including Ecologistas en Acción and the Iberian Antinuclear Movement, and also taking into account the government's energy and climate plans.

It is a clear victory for the anti-nuclear movement that brings energy and enthusiasm to the ongoing fight to end nuclear power in Spain, in Europe, and all over the world. Spain's seven operating power reactors all date from the 1980s and the operating licences of all seven reactors expire between June 2020 and November 2024.