Garoña officially closes

08 July 2013

Garoña (Image: Nuclenor) 

Spain's Garoña nuclear power plant was officially shut down at the weekend, ending four years of uncertainty over its future.

The 446 MWe boiling water reactor at Garoña began operation in 1971 and is suitable for operation until 2019 given certain technical upgrades. Four years ago the Spanish government issued an operating licence lasting only until 5 July 2013.

Despite a change in government, plant operator Nuclenor did not apply for a new licence, instead biding its time as the new ministers outlined reform to the Spanish energy sector. One aspect of this was a new tax regime including new charges for electricity generation and used nuclear fuel which would have cost Garoña about €150 million ($192 million) each year - about 30% of the plant's revenue and clearly too much when combined with €120 million ($154 million) in upgrades necessary to operate until 2019.

As the smallest and oldest nuclear generator in Spain, Garoña's closure only means the loss of 6% of national nuclear generating capacity as eight other reactors continue to generate with total capacity of 7002 MWe. However, Garoña's reliable operation over the last five years saw it achieve an average capacity factor of 93%; replacing its production with equally reliable fossil fuels will cause Spain to emit 10-18 million tonnes more carbon dioxide in the next six years.

The reactor was idled in mid-December 2012 to avoid a full year of retroactive tax charges for which it would have been liable if it was operating on 1 January. Nuclenor played for time in the hope of policy change, appealing to government to keep the reactor in an idle state for an extra year. This was ultimately unsuccessful and Garoña was officially declared shut on 5 July. The reactor is now being prepared for decommissioning.

The loss of the plant comes at a cost to its northern home province of Burgos, where it supported about 1500 jobs and contributed €280 million ($360 million) per year to the economy, according to a study sponsored by Nuclenor. During 2009-12 the company had also spent €50 million ($64 million) to support longer operation.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News