Spain generates about one-third of its electricity by nuclear energy. The first plant, bought from Westinghouse, was commissioned in 1968. It is owned and operated by Union Fenosa, an electric utility owned by private shareholders and publicly traded on the stock exchange. Since its commissioning in 1968, millions of dollars have been invested in upgrading the technology of the plant and safety mechanisms. By mid-1997, eight of Spain's nine nuclear power plants were American while the other one was built by the German firm Siemens. Six of the plants use Westinghouse pressurized water reactors and two use General Electric boiling water reactors. The United States and Spain have a long history of cooperation in nuclear power, with the United States being the traditional supplier of nuclear fuel.
Treatment and Long-Term Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel
The treatment and long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel is a growing problem. American companies with technology for long-term storage of spent fuel may have an important trade opportunity in Spain. At present, spent fuel is stored at each nuclear power plant, because of the lack of a permanent storage facility. Finding a location for such a storage site is difficult because of the “not-in-my-backyard” attitude. For example, on July 10, 1997, the mayor of Trillo (Guadalajara) rejected a permit to allow the building of a nuclear graveyard at the Trillo I nuclear plant to hold the spent nuclear fuel after the year 2002. By that time, the current storage facilities will be filled to capacity. The question now goes to the local courts or the Tribunal Superior de Justicia de Castilla-La Mancha (TSJC-M).
Decommissioning nuclear technology also has a future, as the industry may cease to exist within the first decades of the next century. After the nuclear accidents in the Soviet Union (Chernobyl) and the United States (Three Mile Island), the future does not look promising for nuclear power, with the exception of new safety features to update plants now in operation.
According to an April 1991 report by the Spanish Nuclear Safety Council, more than 12,000 cubic meters of radioactive waste have already been produced since the first nuclear plant started operating in 1968. Six years later, the amount of radioactive waste produced and stored at nuclear power plants may have increased by another 30 percent. (More recent statistics are not available.)
A moratorium on the construction and commissioning of nuclear plants has been in effect for several years, and two nuclear plants under construction were shut down. Spanish consumers pay a special tax on electricity to defray the cost of the investment of the two plants under construction that were affected by the moratorium.
The Spanish and American public and private sector have a long history of cooperation in this industry with many joint ventures. Joint research continues to develop advanced reactors that incorporate new capacity safety features. Spanish and American companies have also presented joint bids for building new plants in China, Mexico, and elsewhere.
Storage of Low-and Medium-Level Nuclear Waste
The key player in Spain's nuclear sector is Empresa Nacional de Resíduos Radioactivos Sociedad Anónima (ENRESA). State-owned ENRESA was founded in the year 1900. Its 1996 sales reportedly totaled $149 million. It has 251 employees. It operates a storage facility for low- and medium- level nuclear waste produced by nuclear power plants, hospitals, and laboratories at El Cabril, with capacity until the year 2015. The Centro de Investigaciones Energéticas, Medioambientales y Tecnológicas (CIEMAT) owns 80 percent of ENRESA and Sociedad Estatal de Participaciones Industriales 20 percent. Currently, there are no plans for privatizing ENRESA. This company is a potential client of American nuclear waste technology.
The decommissioning of nuclear operations is one of ENRESA’s principal activities. For example, between 1959 and 1981, the Spanish Government operated uranium fuel plant that produced U308, at Andujar, in the province of Jaen in the Andalucía region. In 1986, the government decided to shut down the plant and to clean up the contaminated site. The decommissioning project started after receiving approval from the Spanish Nuclear Security Council and the Ministry of Public Works in 1991. The plan followed the American model on the closing of 24 similar installations by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Among the firms that participated in this decommissioning process was Jacobs Engineering, of Pasadena,
California, and Agroman and Dragados of Spain. The project was completed in 1994.
ENRESA’s future projects include building a central temporary storage facility for spent nuclear fuel and constructing a deep geological storage facility for spent nuclear fuel. Work for both projects is expected to start around the year 2015, after detailed engineering plans are prepared. ENRESA will also be involved in the decommissioning of Vandellós I nuclear power plant. This process is expected to take about 30 years. American companies have market opportunities in this decommissioning project.
Of the 20 largest American companies in the nuclear waste field, the following have a presence in Spain: Bechtel Group, Inc.; Morrison Knudsen Corp.; Jacobs Engineering Group Inc.; Fluor Daniel, Inc.; Science Applications International Corp.; Foster Wheeler Corp.; Parsons Infrastructure & Technology Group; and Brown & Root.