Spanish Nuclear Society (Winter 2015-16)
In 1951, the Junta de Energía Nuclear (JEN) was created to assume the main technological, training and administrative functions in the nuclear field. Over the years, it began ceding its responsibilities: those corresponding to the front-end of the nuclear fuel cycle to the Empresa Nacional de Uranio (ENUSA), which was created in 1972, those related to nuclear safety and radiological protection to the Nuclear Safety Council (CSN) in 1980, and in 1984 those involving radioactive waste management and dismantling of nuclear facilities to the Empresa Nacional de Residuos Radiactivos (ENRESA), which took over the waste storage facility of El Cabril that was owned by the JEN.
The creation of the Spanish Nuclear Society in 1974 coincided with the beginning of the fastest period of expansion of nuclear energy in Spain. The National Energy Plan approved in January of 1975 tried to react to the oil crisis of 1973 by considerably reducing its consumption. For that purpose, the aim was to give growing importance to nuclear energy, which was to go from supplying 7.1% of electric power production in 1975 to 56% in 1985, with plans to build more than 20 new nuclear units, although most of them never obtained the nuclear site permit.
Evolution of the Sector in Spain
By 1975 three nuclear power plants, classified as first generation, were in operation: José Cabrera nuclear power plant, Vandellós-I nuclear power plant and Sta. M. de Garoña nuclear power plant, whose design, construction and startup were undertaken with the “turnkey” method with a national share of around 40%.
Between 1973 and 1975, the construction licenses of the second generation of nuclear power plants were granted: Almaraz-I and –II nuclear power plant, Lemóniz-I and –II nuclear power plant, Ascó-I and –II nuclear power plant and Cofrentes nuclear power plant. The supplier of the Nuclear Steam Supply System and the Turbine-Generator set for the first six was Westinghouse, and General Electric for the latter.
The construction licenses for another five units were granted in 1979-80: Vandellós-II nuclear power plant, Valdecaballeros-I and –II nuclear power plant and Trillo-I and –II nuclear power plant. For these plants, the Spanish engineering firms took over the project management and eventually reached levels approaching 85% of the total investment in the last nuclear projects.
However, the National Energy Plan of 1983, which limited installed nuclear power to 7,600 MWe, marked the end of new nuclear projects in Spain by implementing a moratorium on five of the units that were under construction (Lemóniz NPP units I and II, Valdecaballeros NPP units I and II and Trillo NPP unit II). These units were later brought to a definitive halt in 1994 with the enactment of the national electric power system planning and development act.
This decision had a very negative impact on the nuclear industry which, without having its own nuclear technology, had achieved a high technological level in the fields of engineering, service provision, equipment manufacturing, etc. Furthermore, the lowered expectations led to a loss of interest in this sector, which was reflected by the departure of numerous professionals who had trained and gained experience over those years, as well as by the drastic reduction in the number of students enrolled in the nuclear specialties of the technical colleges.
In 1984, the Spanish Parliament decided to create the Empresa Nacional de Residuos Radiactivos (ENRESA) as a non-profit public entity responsible for the inventory, removal, transport, processing and storage of radioactive wastes, as well as the dismantling of nuclear and radioactive facilities, based on the principles of minimization and safety.
A few years later, the Chernobyl accident of 1986 would result in the cessation of construction of new nuclear power plants in the countries of the West.
In 1988, a cost recognition system, known as the Stable Legal Framework, was established to determine the tariff of the management enterprises of the electric power supply service. Subsequently, the Electric Power Sector Act of 1997 gave way to a liberalized market in which the revenue of the generators was fixed by this market, thus ceasing to be a regulated remuneration. This liberalization posed a challenge to the Spanish nuclear sector because of the need to assure that the nuclear power plants would be operated under conditions of utmost safety, regardless of the competitive context of the market in which they operate.
Spanish engineering in the nuclear field had to evolve since the industry concentrated on perfecting operation of the fleet with very favorable results. The improvements in reliability and availability, as well as the power uprates, the improvements made in the fuel cycle and the possibility of long-term operation of the plants for up to 60 years and more, all helped to improve the competitiveness of these facilities.
The subsequent accident in Fukushima in 2011 was a new setback for nuclear energy, as it created uncertainties about its future just at a time when there was renewed interest in this source of energy.
After the JEN disappeared, the Centro de Investigaciones Energéticas, Medioambientales y Tecnológicas (CIEMAT) was created in 1986 as a national reference center for energy and environmental research, including in the nuclear field.
In this field of research, the Electrotechnical Research Plan was implemented in 1983 to promote national electrical technology, and in 1999 the advisability of coordinating these efforts nationwide was considered to jointly undertake projects of common interest and be able to take a single national position for participation in international projects, thus optimizing the available resources. With this objective in mind, the Ministry of Industry and Energy, in collaboration with the CSN, the electric power sector and the main agents involved, promoted the creation of the CEIDEN. In 2007 this would become the CIEDEN technology platform for the purpose of extending participation to more entities with an interest in nuclear R&D. At present it has nearly one hundred public and private members, which represent the large majority of the players in this field in Spain.
With regard to regulatory evolution, the Nuclear Energy Act of 1964, which focused on fostering the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and eight years later the publication of the nuclear and radioactive facilities regulation (RINR), which implements the authorization regime provided in the Act, provided the legal and administrative basis for development of the nuclear program.
In 1980, an essential step was taken with enactment of the law creating the CSN as a public-law entity independent of the State’s Central Administration and the only entity with powers in matters of nuclear safety and radiological protection. Its mission is to assess and control the design, construction and operation of nuclear and radioactive facilities based on the model of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Over the years, new regulations and revisions have been approved, both at the legal and regulatory levels, basically for the purpose of accommodating technological advances and the national and international experience gained, as well as the need to include the commitments acquired by the Spanish State in the international arena.
The Fukushima accident has made a mark on the activity of the nuclear sector over these last few years.
In the framework of the EU, our country, just as the rest of the member states, chose to adopt the agreed on strategy of performing stress tests. These tests have highlighted the high safety conditions under which the Spanish nuclear power plants operate although, just as in the rest of the EU plants, improvements have been identified that are in the process of being implemented and that will enhance the safety of the plants. This should help to restore the trust lost after the accident.
The nuclear share in national electric power production is still very significant – around 20% - thus ranking Spain as the fourth largest nuclear energy producer in the EU and the eighth in the OECD. In recent years, an intense process of renewal of the Spanish nuclear power plants’ operating licenses has been taking place.
Spanish engineering in the nuclear field has remained active in several areas:
Operating support to the fleet in operation
Participation in the design of 3rd generation plants
Participation in the European assistance program to improve the safety of the nuclear power plants in the former Soviet Union
Different kinds of projects in waste treatment and in the second part of the fuel cycle
Participation in the nuclear fusion ITER project
Participation in the design of the 4th generation of nuclear reactors
Participation in the launch phases of new nuclear power plant projects
Technological projects in the nuclear field
Looking to the future, nuclear energy will undoubtedly continue to be a strategic energy supply option available to those countries that want it, particularly if the aim is to have a low carbon economy.
Spain has a comprehensive regulatory framework that meets the most demanding international criteria in this field and a regulatory body that has a highly qualified, experienced technical corps.
Furthermore, with the low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste storage facility in El Cabril and the Centralized Temporary Storage facility, the startup of which will put an end to a long process that began in 2006, Spain will be in position to guarantee the safe management of the country’s spent fuel and radioactive wastes in the decades to come.