The Government continues with its timetable for decommissioning nuclear power plants and the time for a hypothetical turnaround is running out. According to the plan that the Executive agreed with the owners, the "staggered" decommissioning of the plants will start in 2027, with the cessation of activity of the Almaraz plant in Extremadura, and will conclude in 2035, with Vandellós II and Trillo.
While the debate on the convenience or not of renouncing now to this energy source is spreading, for the moment the Executive continues clinging to the agreed calendar. The latest version of the Radioactive Waste Plan limits the deadlines: "For planning and costing purposes, it is foreseen that the preliminary work will begin between three and, preferably, five years before the date of definitive cessation", so that the start of the dismantling works, which will be undertaken with the model of the José Cabrera plant as a reference, "can be carried out within a period not exceeding three years after the definitive cessation".
Among the tasks required to undertake the decommissioning are "the emptying of pools (in which the spent fuel is stored), "preparatory activities" and the transfer of ownership to Enresa, the public company which will be in charge of the dismantling, waste management and restoration of the land. The plan puts the "estimated" duration of the works at ten years.
What will be done and what will be left undone
This means that in the first plant to be closed, Almaraz, preparations will start in 2024 at the latest: from that year onwards, the owners of Almaraz, Iberdrola, Endesa and Naturgy, together with Enresa, will undertake tasks on fuel management and the adaptation of the facilities for the future dismantling.
Equally relevant will be the work that the plant will stop doing when the closure date approaches and which could make a reversal unfeasible: tasks such as the provision of fuel "is carried out four or five years in advance". Sources from Foro Nuclear explain to LD that to allow "the continuity of the operation" of a plant it is necessary to "address well in advance" planning aspects related to fuel, "long-term maintenance", the execution of investments and issues related to personnel and generational replacement.
"Everything is at stake" in 2023
The president of Foro Nuclear, Ignacio Araluce, pointed out in a recent meeting with journalists 2024 as the deadline for a hypothetical reversal in the closure of Almaraz, the first of the plants on the calendar. With that deadline on the horizon, 2023 will be the key year for the future of the nuclear fleet: next year, a "window" opens for the revision of the National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan 2021-2030 (PNIEC), the document emanating from the Climate Change Law that includes the "national strategic planning" of Spanish energy policy in line with the EU's "decarbonization" objectives and that decrees the closure of nuclear power plants.
The plan, developed months before the war in Ukraine, established a public consultation and the possibility of an update in 2023 of the "minimum national targets for 2030". In the sector, they point out that this "window of opportunity" could mean a change in the closure plans.
The conditions of the owners
Meanwhile, the Executive continues to defend the calendar as immovable and among their arguments they highlight that it was agreed with the companies. Foro Nuclear, the employers' association that groups the owners, claims that in order to make changes they need the plants to be profitable, and that, according to their point of view, means to lighten the tax burden they have to bear, to have a "stable legal framework" and also, as Araluce himself has suggested, to enjoy a guaranteed profitability.
"If we are forced to continue operating , we must be guaranteed a remuneration, and also stable during the time that the nuclear plants are maintained to cover expenses, amortization investments and future investments, and this should be agreed with the Government", Araluce pointed out a few weeks ago in a message addressed to the Government that will come out of the ballot box in the next elections and that will have in its hand to stop, or not, the process.