Spain - Plutonium Investigation n°16

Development background

    Spain's nuclear program was initiated in the early 1960s under the Franco regime, with government sponsored research as in many other countries. Reactor development plans were followed by uranium exploration, and participation in uranium enrichment services abroad. Currently there are nine commercial power plants, with a design output of 7,400 MWe, owned and operated by a complex cluster of private and public utility companies resulting from a series of mergers and take-overs of the original companies (see box on page 5). Last year the Spanish power industry generated 172,771 TWh of electricity, of which 58,960 TWh were nuclear generated, equaling about 37.1% of output. (The OECD Nuclear Energy Agency calculate this will drop to around 31% in 1999.) Around 18% of the installed national power capacity of 43,522MW comes from nuclear, with 38% hydro power and 26% from coal.

   In November 1998 Environment Minister Isabel Tocino presented a plan to Parliament to combat climate change. It was endorsed by Spain's National Climate Council in December 1998, and called for an extension of the operational lives of the existing nuclear plants.

   The nuclear program began with a small (2 MW) research reactor, JEN-1, named after the Junta de Energia Nuclear - later renamed the Energy and Environmental Research Centre (CIEMAT) - which went critical in October 1958. Another research reactor, Coral-1, went critical in March 1968. By this time, the first two commercial power plants had been ordered in 1965. The 160 MWe pressurised water reactor, Zorita, (also now known as José Cabrera) was bought from Westinghouse, and was commissioned in 1969. A second 460 MWe boiling water reactor, Santa Maria de Garoña, was ordered from General Electric, and came on-line in 1971.

   These two plants were ordered by private utilities, Unión Eléctrica-Fenosa and Nuclenor respectively. A third plant was ordered in 1966 by a joint Franco-Spanish company called Hifrensa (Hispano-Francesa de Energia Nuclear). This was a 500 MWe gas-graphite reactor, called Vandellós-1, a modification of the design of reactors built in France for EDF, the French national power utility, which also produced military plutonium.

    Although Spain subsequently constructed a further six nuclear plants, the last of which at Trillo was commissioned in 1988, A decision by the high level Ministerial Council in October 1983 resulted in the halving of the original nuclear generation program from 10,535 MW to 5.725 MW. In May 1991 energy minister Claudio Aranzadi announced that no new nuclear plants would be commissioned before 2000. A new electricity planning law passed by the Spanish Parliament (Cortes) in March 1993, led to the definitive cancellation of the five nuclear plants whose construction had been frozen by the Socialist government in the 1984 moratorium. In June 1995 the closure of Zorita was announced, but in August that year Garoña won an extension of its operating permit.

   It is the first three plants - along with the research reactors - that are of central interest for plutonium production, particularly because their discharged irradiated fuel has been contracted to be reprocessed in the UK and France.

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