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    Spain's nuclear decline despite the energy crisis: how the Zorita plant is being dismantled

    September 7, 2022 - CE Noticias Financieras


      Last Updated Wednesday, September 7, 2012-07:45 am

      View 14 commentsThat

      of the nuclear power plant José Cabrera

      (Zorita, Guadalajara, 1968) has been one of the most mediatic endings in history. Since 13 years ago the only one of its reactors was shut down, hundreds of personalities of all kinds have passed through its dismantling. Even a delegation of Japanese experts in atomic matters dropped by the emptied Spain.

      Enresa's technicians are hurrying their work in the field before moving completely to Garoña. Despite Vox's request, which called for its reopening, everything is on schedule and the Burgos site will be the next giant to be cut up. Enresa will not be short of work for decades to come. Seven plants will be shut down between now and 2035, and all of them will have to be dismantled step by step.

      Not even the conflicting positions of government and opposition alter, for the moment, a nuclear closure plan that continues its course and will culminate in 2035. Alberto Núñez Feijóo reminded Pedro Sánchez yesterday in the Senate that countries such as "France and the United Kingdom" have opted for this energy. The president rejected the proposal arguing that it is not a solution with "significant" effects on the current energy crisis, and pointed to a lack of conviction on the part of the sector: "Itell you that there are no companies interested

      ," he said.

      Posturing aside, the fact is that, when the plant was in operation, it was a great attraction

      . It was not unusual to receive tourists who crowded around to have their pictures taken in front of the first nuclear colossus built by Spain, still sculpted under Franco's government.

      By 2022, there is no postcard to pose for. Enresa

      , the state-owned company in charge of dismantling the plant, has done its work on the ground. From 2010 to the present, the company has been in charge of dismantling the infrastructure piece by piece as if it were a Lego model. In fact, the iconic orange dome that housed the reactor has disappeared. The only thing that remains in sight now is a vast wasteland next to the Tagus where, if everything goes according to plan, Naturgy will install a photovoltaic park. Enresa's work in Zorita is 99% complete.


      Leaving aside the obvious - these giants cannot be left to age on their own - there are a number of reasons why a nuclear power plant is decommissioned. "Just as you don't walk down the street and find abandoned cars, it wouldn't make sense to leave a plant there," says Manuel Ondaro, who is currently in charge of decommissioning the plant. Although this type of facility is safe, it should be remembered that there is always an associated radiological risk

      , so another reason is to reduce the possible impact it could have on the environment and, consequently, on society.

      Shutting down a nuclear power plant is not as simple as flicking a switch, closing the doors and turning off the lights, but requires a series of very costly associated maintenance operations that, if prolonged over the long term, are not cost-effective. "If we didn't touch the installation it would degrade and generate very high deferred maintenance costs. All plants can be dismantled; there is no plant, no matter how complicated the process may be, that cannot be dismantled", says Manuel Ondaro.

      It should be remembered that the spaces continue to belong to the company that owns the plant, so they can be used for other types of activities.

      Of all the elements that exist in a nuclear power plant, most are not radioactive. However, when it comes to decommissioning, the priority is to clean up the places where there is a risk of contamination. This is why several phases are needed to undertake a project of these characteristics; José Cabrera's project, in particular, has had five.

      During the first of these - phase0

      , which is not 1 - the plant is shut down. It stops producing energy and is disconnected from the power grid. This is one of the most important stages: in addition to the processes explained above, the primary circuit is decontaminated and the spent fuel is removed. After an initial management phase in the plant pool, the spent fuel is transferred to dry storage.

      Once the zero phase is over, the removal of larger elements begins

      . Thus, the cooling towers are removed from the landscape. The turbines are also dismantled.

      In phase 2

      , work is carried out on the elements that make up the reactor, with material still contaminated by radiation. First, all the elements surrounding the vessel are removed. Ultimately, this will allow better access to the reactor vessel. The reactor vessel is the place where the continuous reactions that allow the generation of nuclear energy take place. Part of the elements removed in this phase accompany the spent fuel removed during phase 0 to the temporary waste store.

      Phases 3 and 4

      are interrelated. During the third phase, those elements that still have radiation levels too high to be demolished are cleaned. At the end of this phase, the rest of the elements are removed. This process constitutes phase 4.

      Before proceeding with demolition, Enresa must ensure that all the buildings have been properly decontaminated. To this end, there are a series of marks on the walls that allow the radiation to be measured in each square meter


      What happens to the waste?

      The safe removal and management of waste is one of Enresa's missions. During the dismantling of the José Cabrera plant, approximately 141,000 tons of materials

      are expected to be generated, most of which are not radioactive.

      It should be noted that, throughout this process, nuclear power plants generate an entire industry around the removal of these wastes. During decommissioning, as a general rule, a large number of workers move to a nearby site to live for almost ten years, which is usually well received by the municipalities surrounding the facility. The same occurs during the refueling processes, which are shorter, but which bring together between 1,000 and 1,500 people.

      As regards the fuel spent during power generation - the main concern of the pressure groups - it is worth mentioning that this is far from being managed in any way. All processes are highly controlled by the relevant regulators and the risk to the population is practically nil.

      Waste is classified according to its level of activity. In Spain, the very low, medium and low activity waste storage facility is at El Cabril

      (Córdoba). This is where all the elements of this typology end up once they meet the established levels. Right now, it is at 80% of its capacity for very low, low and medium level waste, which will be expanded in 2028.

      Those wastes that do not go to El Cabril remain in the temporary storage facility at the plant. Specifically, the total amount of high level waste stored in the ATI amounts to 175 tons. These are located on the outskirts of the facilities in containers capable of withstanding any type of inclement weather. Such are the protocols, that within the hypothetical scenarios designed, even a passenger plane crashing into these containers is contemplated. "They would hold, it is prepared to face these assumptions," says Manuel Ondaro.


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