There has been much talk in recent days about the closing dates of nuclear power plants in Spain. At the end of the year, the government did not plan to extend the nuclear reactors live beyond 40 years (which would mean starting with the staggered closure in 2021). However, at the end of January, the government and the most important electricity companies in Spain (Endesa, Iberdrola and Naturgy) met to lay on the table the staggered closure of the plants not before 2025 and with a total closure horizon of 2035 or 2036. Finally, on Tuesday 12, the energy minister Teresa Ribera confirmed the staggered nuclear closure between 2025 and 2035.

Next, we will try to shed light on what this measure may mean and the plans to carry it out.

The numbers

To put in situation, we will see some relevant data of the current nuclear situation in Spain:

Start-up year

Source: CSN (National Security Council)

As we can see, during the next decade the 40 years of operation for the reactors would be completed, period for which they were designed.

Electric capacity

Source: 5 días

Nuclear capacity in Spain totals 7,406 MW. In 2017, the installed electric capacity in Spain was 104,122 MW, and the peak demand was 41,381 MW on January 18 (data from “Red Eléctrica”)

Nuclear production

Source: “Red Eléctrica”. Own elaboration.

Of the 261,000 GWh/hour produced, 20.4% (about 53,200 GWh) were of nuclear origin, being, though narrowly, the predominant technology last year.

Participation percentage

Source: 5 días

Nuclear reactors in Spain belong almost entirely to the 3 major energy companies (Iberdrola, Endesa and Naturgy)

Closing dates

On January 28, an agreement was reached between Endesa, Iberdrola, Naturgy and the Minister for Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, to close stepwise the seven plants in operation “not before 2025 nor after 2035”, without specifying in detail the calendar. However, on February 11, “Cinco Días” indicated that the government has actually agreed the closure calendar, which would be the following:

Source: Cinco días.

According to this scenario, Almaraz I would be the first to close in 2027 and the total closure would conclude with Trillo (2035).

The way to follow: “PIEC”

The closure of the nuclear power plants is included in the Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PIEC), announced by the government on Tuesday, February 12 and whose draft will be taken to the Council of Ministers on the 22nd. This plan defines the roadmap for the energy transition and will be sent to Brussels two months late.

Teresa Ribera detailed the main lines of this plan in the 16th Meeting of the Energy Sector, which we summarize below:

  • The closure of nuclear power stations between 2025 and 2035 in an “orderly” way is confirmed.
  • Target of 70% renewable generation at the end of the decade.
  • 20% is the target to reduce the emissions in 2030 compared to 1990 (38 points less than at present).
  • 100% renewable generation target in 2050.
  • It is expected that in the decade between 2020 and 2030 investments worth 200,000 million euros will be mobilized, of which:
    • around 40-45% in renewables.
    • 30-35% in energy efficiency.
    • 15% will be associated with the grid.
    • 4% in electrification for end uses
  • Scenario: 2020 begins with a decline in coal generation that disappears over the decade, and in the second half of this decade, an orderly closure of the nuclear park is planned.
  • The “PIEC” calculates that the savings for Spain with the energy transition between 2020 and 2030 will be over 70,000 million euros and GDP would increase by around 1.9% in that period, with very positive impacts for employment.
  • An important electrification in the mobilization and the stabilization of the gas is contemplated.
  • Between 2030 and 2039, a drop in the weight of oil for energy uses is foreseen, and gas will be maintained as backup technology.

The focuses of action until 2030 will be electrification, efficiency and renewable.

Some of the difficulties

Such an ambitious plan will be full of difficulties. To carry it out, the following problems must be solved (among others):

  • The CO2 problem: nuclear power production has accounted for 34.42% of the electricity without polluting emissions generated in Spain in 2018, since they do not emit gases or particulate pollutants into the atmosphere. If this generation cannot be replaced with renewable energy, it will have to be done using polluting fuels, and if this is achieved, we will face the following difficulty.
  • Management of renewable energy: If the move from nuclear to renewable energy is not done in a convenient way, the security of supply can be endangered, as well as the competitiveness of our energy. The idea is to move from a technology that continuously and stably generates energy to one that cannot be stored and that is not manageable. This will mean a considerable increase in system costs and an important technological challenge.

Dismantling cost: who pays it

Another problem with the closure of nuclear power plants is knowing how we are going to face the multibillion-dollar dismantling bill. The public business entity Enresa (Compañía Nacional de Residuos Radiactivos, S.A.) has as mission to manage the radioactive waste that is generated in the country, as well as to oversee the dismantling of nuclear facilities. To meet this cost, the owners of the plants must pay for the so-called “Enresa Rate”, currently of 6.7 €/MWh of plant production and calculated for a useful life of 40 years.

This fund currently has a little more than 5,300 million euros, although Enresa estimated the amount needed for the dismantling of the plants and waste management over the next decades in 17,700 million. This would imply a hole of 1,500 million according to Enresa and 3,000 million according to the electricity companies (counting the rates that remain to be paid).

However, this estimate was calculated assuming that the plants would operate until they were 40 years old. By lengthening the life of the plants to an average of about 45 years, the expected financial hole in the decommissioning program would be covered.

For the moment, the government has left the door open to a possible rise in the “Enresa Rate”, although it will be Enresa who will decide if more resources are necessary.

Conclusions

A future without nuclear energy and based solely on renewable energies sounds attractive, but we must not forget that for our energy market to work we need to fulfill 3 fundamental pillars:

  • Competitiveness
  • Security of supply
  • Sustainability

So far, our policies have focused more on the first two pillars, so it is time to catch up with the third.

The real challenge will be to find the balance that makes our efforts to improve sustainability, not jeopardize our competitiveness or our security of supply.

As we have been saying since Magnus for months, we will face great changes in the energy sector in the coming years. Once again, the legislation will make the most important changes in the sector. Will we finally achieve the proposed targets, or will we again face goals that we cannot meet? We will continue informing…

Ismael Abordan | Energy Consultant

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