Spain’s new radwaste plan supports nuclear phase-out

3 January 2024

Spain’s Council of Ministers has approved the seventh General Plan for Radioactive Waste (PGRR - Plan General de Residuos Radiactivos), proposed by the Ministry for Ecological Transition & Demographic Challenge, which sets the roadmap for treatment of wastes from NPPs. This plan, approval of which was delayed for some years, is essential to support Spain’s nuclear phase out plans but slightly extends their operation. Spain now intends to close its five operating plants starting in 2027 with a completion date of 2035.

Spain currently has seven operating reactors at five NPPs. These include two pressurised water reactors (PWRs) at Almarez NPP (Extremadura), two PWRs at Ascó NPP (Tarragona), one boiling water reactor at Cofrentes NPP (Valencia), one PWR at Vandellós NPP (Tarragona) and one PWR at Trillo NPP (Guadalajara). Together they generate around 20% of Spain’s electricity. Power utilities Endesa, Iberdrola and Naturgy all have shares in the NPPs. In addition, there are two other plants undergoing decommissioning – José Cabrera and Santa María de Garoña. The closure will begin Almaraz 1 in November 2027 followed by unit 2 in October 2028. Then Ascó, Cofrentes, Vandellós and Trillo will close in sequence by 2035.

Closure of the plants will entail a complex process of dismantling the facilities and the subsequent management of radioactive waste. The very low, low and intermediate activity waste will go to the El Cabril storage facility in the province of Córdoba, which will need to be expanded. However, the disposal of high-level waste and used fuel had been problematic. The basic priority objective of the Sixth General Radioactive Waste Management Plan, prepared by the National Radioactive Waste Company (Enresa) and approved by the Council of Ministers in 2006, was the setting up of a Centralised Temporary Storage Facility (ATC - Almacenamiento Temporal Centralizado) for used fuel and high-level radioactive waste (HLW) until a final repository has been constructed.

The Spanish Nuclear Safety Council (CNS - Consejo de Seguridad Nuclear) approved the basic conceptual design of the ATC without identifying a specific location. Subsequently the government of Mariano Rajoyin 2011 appointed Villar de Cañas, in Cuenca as the site for the ATC. However, this was frozen in 2018 by the government of Pedro Sanchez after €90m ($99.5m) had already been spent on the project.

The seventh PGRR abandons the ATC concept in favour of constructing seven storage facilities – one at each of the five operating nuclear plants in addition to two at the closed plants of Garoña and José Cabrera. These are considered as a temporary solution until a Deep Geological Repository (AGP - Almacén Geológico Profundo) is available in the 2070s.

The new plan establishes the government's policy on radioactive waste management, including used fuel, and the dismantling and decommissioning of nuclear facilities. According to the Government in a press release, the PGRR underwent a long process starting in 2020 with the dissemination of a draft plan. It is the first PGRR to undergo a strategic environmental assessment – which also includes a phase of consultation and public information – and a report from the CNS and local communities, in order to guarantee broad participation, consensus and social support.

It is in line with the National Integrated Energy & Climate Plan (PNIEC - Plan Nacional Integrado de Energía y Clima) 2021-2030, that sets the roadmap for Spain to meet the European climate and energy objectives. This is in line with the Protocol for nuclear phaseout signed in 2019 between Enresa and its shareholders (the Centre for Energy, Environmental & Technological Research (Ciemat - Centro de Investigaciones Energéticas, Medioambientales y Tecnológicas) and the State Society for Industrial Participations (SEPI - Sociedad Estatal de Participaciones Industriales) along with the plant owners Endesa, Iberdrola and Naturgy.

The Plan envisages:

  • Closure of NPPs between 2027 and 2035 – According to the 6th PGRR, the final shutdown would have occurred between 2021 and 2028.
  • Start of the dismantling of NPPs three years after their closure, except Vandellós I, whose last phase will be carried out from 2030.
  • Continued operation of the El Cabril storage centre until dismantling of the plants if completed.
  • Continuity of actions to expand the capacity of Individual Temporary storages (ATIs - Almacenes Temporales Individualizados) for used fuel at NPPs until dismantling is completed.
  • Construction of seven Decentralised Temporary Storages (ATDs - Almacenes Temporales Descentralizados) at plant sites for used fuel and HLW, until their transfer to final storage. The ATD will comprise its ATI plus a new complementary installation or additional measures, which allow carrying out the maintenance operations of the storage containers.
  • Definitive storage of used fuel and HLW in a AGP.

The PGRR foresees future costs of €20.22bn that, in accordance with the polluter pays principle will be covered by the Fund to finance the activities of the PGRR, managed by Enresa funded by the nuclear facility owners.

Image: El Cabril storage facility located in Spain's Córdoba province (courtesy of Enresa)

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