As happened in the debate on the state of the nation, Pedro Sánchez again made clear his rejection of nuclear energy after Alberto Núñez Feijóo, in his first debate in the Senate, urged him to take advantage of "all possible energy sources" and reproached him for the fact that Spain is the only one of the 13 European countries with plants that has not reconsidered its closure plans.
"It is not a solution to the energy crisis," said Sánchez, who again defended the agreement "for a gradual closure" of the reactors claiming that 2027 (the date when the first reactor would stop operating) "is much more than 2022." "Talk to the companies," said a Sanchez who has been targeting electricity companies for months. "There are no companies in Spain that are interested in opening a new plant," he insisted, "to create a nuclear plant is 15 or 20 years (...) if we wanted to build it, which I tell you we do not want, it would not be operational for 15 or 20 years. It is a fallacy to propose this solution".
Contrary to the countries that are advocating this energy source in this context of crisis or at least considering the closure dates (even the anti-nuclear Germany will delay the closure of two of its last three reactors by three months), Sanchez left the ball in the court of the companies that operate the Spanish nuclear fleet by saying that they are the ones who want to close and who do not want to build more plants in Spain. For nuclear energy expert Manuel Fernández Ordóñez, this is "a real fallacy on the part of the Government", which makes a policy "of closing nuclear power plants and then says that nobody wants to build them".
"Who is going to make multi-million dollar investments in this country with the legal insecurity we have? How are you going to invest in nuclear energy in a country whose government says it wants to close nuclear power plants? If there is no political will, it is impossible for investments to be made," he insists, speaking to LD.
Luis E. Herranz, Professor of Nuclear Safety Research and Head of CIEMAT's Nuclear Safety Research Unit, stresses how a company's willingness to invest in a power plant depends on"the fiscal and political stability that is maintained in the country where it is being built". In this respect, he recalls how one company in Spain, Iberdrola, "has already had experience of building a nuclear power plant and having it closed when it is more than 70% built", in reference to the Valdecaballeros plant in Extremadura and the nuclear moratorium. A decision which, he recalls, was taken by the PSOE and "we have all been paying for it for decades". Herranz also points out that this willingness to invest also depends on "the taxes that are artificially applied to nuclear MWh". The sector has been complaining for years about the tax burden.
"Electricity companies are companies that are beholden to their shareholders. If the political-economic situation means that other energies are subsidized, with a purchase guarantee and they give more benefits to the electricity companies... the shareholder will be happy with whatever gives him the most euros", comments Herranz, who highlights the example of other countries such as the United Kingdom that have opted to partner with private investment in nuclear power plants.
How long does it take to build a plant?
Sánchez, who a few days ago sold as a remedy to the crisis a future gas pipeline with Italy that, according to experts, would take at least a decade to build, used the deadlines for the construction of power plants as an argument for rejecting this type of energy. Although the president ventured the figure of 15 or 20 years, Herranz stresses that the time it takes to build a power plant varies depending on different factors. "Firstly, it depends on whether it is the first construction of a reactor design; in this case the time is always longer than the time it takes when the experience of the first constructions of that design is incorporated. Secondly, the place in the world; in China it has taken 4-5 years to build reactors that in Europe have required 8-10 years".
Fernández Ordóñez stresses that "the latest projects in Europe and the USA have had long delays because we have not been building power plants for decades. We have lost the entire value chain, but we can recover it. In the 1980s, we were building nuclear power plants in 4-5 years. Today, countries like China or South Korea are building plants within those timeframes," he says.
Other countries are embarking on small modular reactor (SMR) or "mini-reactor" projects, which differ from large plants, among other things, in construction time: their components can be built in the factory, assembled and then moved to the installation site, which would reduce costs and lead times compared to a large plant where there are design variations at practically every site. Herranz points out that in the future (it is expected that the projects underway in the USA and Europe will begin to materialize in the 1930s) SMRs "can be built in three years"; Fernández Ordóñez notes that there are studies that speak of even two.
The uranium that "comes from Russia".
In his speech, Sánchez also pointed out to Feijóo that 40 percent of the uranium in Spain "comes from Russia". He did not mention, however, the fact that the Climate Change law passed in May 2021 explicitly banned the search for and extraction of uranium in our country:
"Due to its harm and cost, neither will new exploration permits, research permits or concessions for the exploitation of radioactive minerals be granted, nor will new requests for authorization of radioactive facilities be admitted," states the norm with respect to projects related to uranium mining.
In Spain, uranium was mined in Salamanca and Badajoz until 1998, when it was considered not economically viable. The Australian company Berkeley then took over the rights to exploit a large part of the reserves and tried to open a mine in Retortillo, Salamanca. The project was rejected last year by the Ministry of Ecological Transition following an unfavorable report from the Nuclear Safety Council. The company continues to maintain that the deposits would make it possible to cover imports from Russia.