Spanish uranium project denied authorisation

29 November 2021

Spain's Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge (MITECO) has rejected Berkeley Energia's authorisation to build a uranium processing plant at the company's Salamanca project in western Spain. The company has questioned the legality of the decision.

(Image: Pixabay)

MITECO's descion follows an unfavourable report for the grant of the Authorisation for Construction for the plant as a radioactive facility - known as NSCII - which was issued by Spain's Nuclear Safety Council (Consejo De Seguridad Nuclear, CSN) in July. Later the same month, Berkeley submitted a supplementary Improvement Report and corresponding arguments addressing all the issues raised by the CNS and requested a reassessment. Further documentation was submitted to MITECO in early August, when the company again restated the project's compliance with all requirements for the NSC II to be awarded.

"As previously reported, Berkeley strongly refutes the NSC's assessment and, in the company's opinion, the NSC has adopted an arbitrary decision with the technical issues used as justification to issue the unfavourable report lacking in both technical and legal support," the company said on 26 November, after MITECO formally notified the company of its decision.

Berkeley requested from MITECO access to the files associated with the relevant construction and dismantling and closure authorisations for previous radioactive facilities at La Haba (Badajoz) and Saelices El Chico (Salamanca), which are owned by Enusa Industrias Avandas SA, "to verify and contrast the conditions approved by the competent administrative and regulatory bodies for other similar uranium projects in Spain. Based on those files, it said, "it is clear that Berkeley, in its NSC II submission, has been required to provide information that does not correspond to: (i) the regulatory framework, (ii) the scope of the current procedural stage (i.e. at the NSC II stage), and/or (iii) the criteria applied in other licensing processes for similar radioactive facilities). Accordingly, the company considers that the NSC has acted in a discriminatory and arbitrary manner when assessing the NSC II application for the Salamanca project."

"In Berkeley's strong opinion, MITECO has rejected the company's NSC II application without following the legally established procedure, as the Improvement Report has not been taken into account and sent to the NSC for its assessment, as requested on multiple occasions by the company," it said.

"In this regard, the company believes that MITECO have infringed regulations on administrative procedures in Spain, as well as Berkeley's right of defence, which would imply that the decision on the rejection of the company's NSC II application is not legal."

Berkeley said it will "immediately consider the range of legal options available to it in relation to the adverse resolution by MITECO."

The Salamanca project has 59.8 million pounds U3O8 (23,000 tU) of measured and indicated resources as well as inferred resources of 29.6 million pounds of U3O8. According to a definitive feasibility study published by Berkeley in 2016, it would be capable of producing an average of 4.4 million pounds of uranium per year at a cash cost of USD13.30 per pound over an initial ten-year period.

Initial on-site infrastructure work began in 2016, and work began on road realignment and a power line upgrade ahead of main construction. The Municipality of Retortillo in 2020 issued Berkeley Energia a land use permit, known as an Urbanism Licence, for construction works at the project, leaving the NSC II as the only outstanding approval required for full construction to begin.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News