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    "No electricity company is willing to change the schedule for closing nuclear power plants."

    September 28, 2022 - CE Noticias Financieras


      The debate on the nuclear shutdown is trying to be reopened, for the moment, from politics. The Popular Party, Vox and Ciudadanos have been advocating for months a revision of the planned schedule for the closure of all Spanish nuclear power plants, which would start in 2027 and end with a total shutdown in 2035. In the midst of the energy crisis, the right-wing parties support extending the life of the reactors as a way of boosting Spain's future energy sovereignty and recall that other European countries are rethinking the closure of their nuclear plants.

      The Government has been flatly rejecting a rethinking of the dates scheduled for future decommissioning, arguing that it would not serve to face the energy emergency the country is facing due to the current crisis (the first closure is scheduled for five years from now) and stressing that the closures are the result of the agreement reached with the electricity companies that own the nuclear power plants three years ago.

      From Enresa, the public company in charge of managing nuclear waste and the dismantling of the reactors, it is stated that none of the utilities has expressed any interest in postponing the scheduled closures .

      "No electricity company is willing to change the protocol of the shutdown schedule of the plants. None has transmitted it either directly or indirectly in our meetings, nor have they said so publicly," said Enresa' s president, José Luis Navarro, during his appearance at the Ecological Transition Commission of the Congress of Deputies on Tuesday. "In order to modify the closure schedule, the coinciding will of the Government and the companies is needed. The Government does not want to and the companies, as far as I know, neither."

      The Government agreed in 2019 with the major electricity companies a schedule for the progressive closure of all Spanish power plants that will lead to a total nuclear shutdown in the country. The agreement with Endesa, Iberdrola, Naturgy and EDP contemplates the staggered closure of the plants between 2027 and 2035.

      According to the president of Enresa, since the agreement was signed with the electricity companies, six of the seven active reactors in Spain (all except the Trillo plant) have requested their license renewal and have done so requesting to extend their life in the exact terms contemplated in the protocol and pointing out that it was the "last and definitive" renewal. "They could not have done it, but they have done it," he said.

      Problem of profitability

      The head of Enresa points out that no company has expressed any interest in making major new investments to extend the life of existing plants, much less for new facilities. " The debate is economic, not about technical viability. The plants can continue to operate longer from a technical point of view, but with large investments to refurbish them.

      The boards of directors of the owner companies are the ones who must assess whether it is profitable to operate for more years," said Navarro. "The companies can't make the numbers work," he said, predicting that the production costs of nuclear power plants, even discounting specific taxes, are higher than the forecasts for electricity sales prices in the medium term reflected by the futures markets.

      From the nuclear sector has persistently criticized the tax burdens borne by the plants to operate and that, therefore, production costs are around 60 euros per megawatt hour (MWh) and without taxes would be around 45 euros per MWh (leaving out the Enresa tax), when futures markets predict much lower electricity prices for 2030 or 2035. "And that does not include the new investments that would have to be made in the plants if their useful life is extended."

      The electricity utilities pay a fee of 7.98 euros for each MWh of electricity produced, which is paid into a fund managed by Enresa to finance waste management and the future decommissioning of the reactors. "That patrimonial benefit is not a tax, it is the application of the 'polluter pays' principle. And it pays as long as it is produced," Navarro clarified.

      In the face of pressure from right-wing political groups to review the schedule for closing nuclear plants, the major electricity companies have shied away from a direct clash with the government and have not openly entered into the debate on extending the life of the plants. In recent months, the president of Iberdrola, Ignacio Sánchez Galán, has pointed out that nuclear plants "are prepared to operate for as long as necessary", but warned that this "will require more investment and costs that would have to be paid for". And the CEO of Endesa, José Bogas, said that if it were necessary to delay the closure of nuclear plants "four or five years" to guarantee the CO2 emission reduction targets "it should not be a problem".

      The Autonomous Regions do not want the storage

      The Government has launched the process to update the General Radioactive Waste Plan (PGRR), the long-term roadmap on how to manage waste, how to dismantle nuclear power plants and how much it is going to cost to do it all. The proposal of the Ministry for Ecological Transition contemplates two alternatives on what to do with nuclear waste over the next 60 years: maintain the project of building a single centralized nuclear cemetery or install seven storage facilities throughout Spain, one at each of the country's nuclear power plants.

      In recent months, Enresa has publicly favored building a single nuclear cemetery as the most economically, environmentally and socially advantageous option. The problem in choosing the location is the need to achieve a social, political and institutional consensus and how to overcome the reluctance of the administrations and the population to live with nuclear waste. And for the moment no regional government is willing to host a centralized temporary storage facility (ATC) in its territory.

      "No autonomous community wants to have the ATC. That is a fact", Navarro has underlined, pointing out that no region has been open to host the nuclear cemetery in the process of allegations of the new PGRR. "Can it be imposed? Can it be done with a handpick?", he has wondered about the possibility of forcing an autonomous community to host it.

      The government of Pedro Sánchez, who recently arrived at Moncloa, paralyzed the project to build a centralized nuclear storage facility in Villar de Cañas, in Cuenca, and has ruled out resuming it. If the option finally chosen is to build a single storage facility for the waste from all the plants, the government would have to look for an alternative location.


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