The technological change of the Spanish generation park that will take place in the coming years for the energy transition towards a low-carbon economy, must take place in 2030.

It is fair to acknowledge that the journey is being a resounding success, however, one of the hot spots of the change is the capacity of Enresa – the company in charge of dismantling the plants and managing radioactive waste – to respond of its commitments.

So far, we have heard about the clean transition, but beyond zero CO2 emissions, there is a very important debate about the investments of the process of all this management that will provide us the exclusive Enresa. This is will be one of the big issues in the coming years to see who pays for this.

The technical complexity of the decommissioning of nuclear power plants makes it essential that it be carried out in a planned, staggered and centralised manner in a single company capable of efficiently managing technical, human and financial resources.

Enresa is a public entity that was created in 1984, at the height of the nuclear energy boom in Spain, as responsible for the integral management of the radioactive wastes generated anywhere in the country, including within its competences the dismantling of nuclear facilities. Enresa reports to the General State Administration and the activities performed are under the supervision of the Nuclear Safety Council – NSC.

Are we ready?

To develop its activity, Enresa is made up the nuclear tax paid by the electricity companies for atomic production, the current value of 6.64 euros/MWh. Right now, with this tax going to a fund, it does not cover the whole nuclear decommissioning.

The low yields during this decade and unforeseen expenses such as the paralysis of the Centralized Temporary Storage (CTS) have generated a deficit of more than 3,000 million. Let us remember that an CTS is a site located a few metres from the surface of the earth to store high level waste at the same point for a certain period of time.

In the last General Radioactive Waste Plan (GRWP) approved in 2006, Enresa indicates that the dismantling and decommissioning of the plants may be hindered, or even prevented, in view of the lack of spent fuel management capacities, the ideal situation being to initiate plant closure at least 7 years after the availability of a Centralised Temporary Storage (CTS). Read more about nuclear power plant shutdown dates here.

If they stay in 40 years, they would have to multiply the rate by even more than three. If interest rates do not rebound and yields continue to fall, Enresa estimates that the rate would have to be raised to almost 20 euros/MWh to cover the cost of the entire decommissioning.

The experts reflect (with Enresa’s data) that extending the life of the plants to 50 years would put an end to the problem of the millionaire hole in Enresa’s fund.

If nuclear energy remains in the system by 2030, the operating life of nuclear power plants should be extended beyond 40 years. This will require a series of additional investments that will allow them to extend the operation, both to carry out the essential replacement of equipment, maintenance and commissioning of the same, and in terms of safety.

In this respect, it is the NSC, the public authorities in charge of nuclear safety and the radiation protection of people and the environment, that establishes the non-recurring investments in obligatory safety to be undertaken by the plants wishing to continue their operation.

It was therefore, the nuclear power plant operators will have to make minimum investments of between 3 and 4 M€ in the safety of the nuclear fleet, considering an average lifetime of 50 years. Of particular note, that these investments are the minimum estimated by the operators.

Central nuclear de Cofrentes, en Valencia. (EFE)

Central nuclear de Cofrentes, en Valencia. (EFE)

We are prepared?

In present day, and since 2005, when the nuclear tax was created, plant operators have contributed just over than 5,000 million euros (4,350 million euros corresponding to this tax and almost 600 million euros collected on electricity tolls, 0.001%). It is estimated that this amount must reach 14 billion to cover the costs of dismantling and waste management, including the construction of Centralized Temporary Storage (ATC) of waste and those already dismantled.

According to the most pessimistic calculations, maintaining the current rate of 6.64 euros and closing the park at 40 years would have been missing in the fund 3,000 million euros, which would have made it necessary to double that rate from now. These amounts do not include the cost of the centralised temporary storage (CTS) of radioactive waste, which, according to different sources, is also part of the agreement, although it has not transcended.

However, in 2012, through Law 15/2012, on fiscal measures for energy sustainability, a new tax on nuclear generation was created, specifically on the production of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste, the purpose of which was to compensate for the burdens it bears from nuclear generation and the uncertainty regarding the valuation of the costs of dismantling the park.

The truth is that what was collected from 2013 to the present through this tax was not used for any activity related to the concepts for which it was created but was used to cover the deficit of the electricity system.

If the income from the nuclear fuel tax were used for the purpose for which it was created, considering the contributions of the companies during the 40 years of operating life and current and future interests, there would be a superátiv of 21% over the needs estimated by Enresa.

Also, if the plants continued to operate until the age of 50, the collection would be extended for another 10 years, considerably increasing the viability of the current financing system.

What is certain is that conventional wisdom is always right, until it is not. The question is: When is it right to disagree?

A weak cycle of profit and loss for the nuclear decommissioning dates continues to surround the changes – the next few years towards transition are likely to be very interesting…

Priscila Scheel| Energy Consultant

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