by Teresa Parejo Navajas, Professor of Law, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (Spain).
Santa María de Garoña (Burgos), the oldest and smallest nuclear plant in Spain, will end its activity on July 2013. Even though it has been highly profitable, in 2011 it generated 1.3% of the total country’s electricity, a quantity that, at the present, is completely dispensable. The drop of the electric demand due to the financial and economic crisis as well as to the gas and renewable stations under construction, has led Spain to an excess of installed capacity. In fact, in 2011, the Spanish installed power, with 103,625 megawatts, more than doubled the peak demand of 44,107 megawatts.
The plant of Garoña, that started its activity in 1971, could only continue its operation until the 6th of July 2013 due to a Ministerial Order established by the previous Government. However, the current Spanish Administration, with the support of Nucleor, the concession-holder company and of the Nuclear Security Council (conditioned upon the compliance of some improvements), wanted to prolong the plant’s life till 2019, keep the jobs, and helping assure the security of energy supply and the energy independence of Spain.
But things have surprisingly changed: Nuclenor — 50% owned by Endesa and 50% by Iberdrola, electric companies — has missed, deliberately, the deadline to submit an operating license renewal application, based on the uncertainty regarding the new conditions that could be established for the activity of nuclear generation within the framework of the energy reform, which has yet to be approved by the government.
Although there is likely to be an intention to put pressure on the Government in order to improve the operational conditions of the plant, the plant has to go through major security renovations, mostly due to the Fukushima accident, but also to the Nuclear Security Council demands. These renovations are estimated to cost more than 100 million Euros (141 million dollars), which make the plant economically unviable. In addition, the uncertainty over the implementation of new taxes and duties on nuclear energy and on hydroelectric plants has led to the final decision. Be that as it may, the prolongation of the operating time period of the plant is now economically unsustainable.