The Government acknowledges that it has no answer to the question of how much it costs to produce a nuclear megawatt hour (MWh) taking into account all the costs of this technology. It has done so in the middle of the war with the main companies in the sector for the measures adopted to drain the spectacular rise in electricity.
Nuclear power plants in the light crisis: from the threat of a blackout to the pending decision on the waste warehouse
“At present the real price of a MWh of nuclear origin is unknown,” says the Executive in a parliamentary response dated September 8, a week before the Council of Ministers approved its shock plan to lower the price of the receipt.
With a Royal Decree-Law, the Government has provided electricity companies with a cut of 2,600 million euros to drastically reduce the charges of the bill of consumers, especially households and SMEs. The main affected will be hydroelectric and nuclear, which will be deducted for six months the extraordinary benefits that, says the Executive, receive these technologies, which it considers amortized, due to the historical escalation of the wholesale price of electricity to cause of the increase in gas prices in international markets.
In its reply, the Government argues that it does not promote nuclear power because, among other reasons, the power plants “use a fuel that, once spent, becomes a highly active and very long-lived waste (thousands of years), of which it is impossible to specify the cost of its definitive management, since, until now, it has not been carried out in any western country “.
Although “the owners of the power plants pay the public company Enresa a patrimonial benefit destined to finance the management of this waste and the dismantling of the power plants”, this lack of experience “means that it is the State that, finally, it has to assume the existing economic uncertainties in relation to the final cost of its management “, he recalls.
Since 2005, reactors pay a fee to finance waste management and decommissioning, which until then was charged to the electricity bill. This rate, which in 2020 raised about 480 million, increased by 19% at the end of 2019 (it had not been reviewed since 2010), to 0.798 euro cents per kilowatt hour generated, within the framework of the staggered closure of the reactors between 2027 and 2035 that the Government agreed with the electricity companies.
Now companies, who say that the so-called profits fallen from the sky are a myth, assure that this calendar is in danger after the approval of a decree described as “market intervention” by the sector, which “will cause numerous generation plants to incur in significant economic losses “, according to the employer Aelec.
The companies have threatened a unilateral and “disorderly” closure of the reactors, which would stop feeding the fund that finances Enresa and would jeopardize the decarbonisation objectives, due to the role of these plants (which do not emit CO2) as support for renewables as long as there is no solution to store energy.
At the end of 2020, the fund managed by Enresa accumulated just under 6,600 million, compared to the more than 23,000 million in which the public company estimates the cost of managing waste and dismantling nuclear facilities up to 2100. That figure would include the construction of the temporary warehouse to store them. Enresa has recently assured that its plan “continues to be to have an ATC” and has warned of the possible “loss of profits” for electricity companies if there is no place to store them in 2026 and the power plants had to stop.
The latest estimate of the generation cost of Spanish nuclear power plants is 56.1 euros / MWh that Endesa provided to the International Energy Agency (IEA) in a recent visit by the technicians of that body to Spain. That figure included 21.4 euros of what the utility describes as “taxes and fees on nuclear waste” and 11.1 euros of “cost of capital.”
Figures that experts such as Eloy Sanz, professor at the Rey Juan Carlos University and expert reviewer of the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Climate Change (IPCC) consider inflated. “It is industry data that is not externally audited,” he says. Sanz recalls that the Spanish nuclear companies, which have been in operation for decades, are not amortized from the accounting point of view by decision of their owners. He believes that the real cost of this technology would not be those 56.1 euros but “around 45 euros / MWh”.
The nuclear plants regretted last year that they were operating at a loss because the MWh in the wholesale market was historically low (it was on average below € 34 / MWh). Now that the futures for the last quarter of the year have reached over 175 euros this week, the power companies maintain that they have sold most of the production of these plants with bilateral contracts at prices much lower than the current ones, so the reduction due to the rise in gas it will lead to losses.
Foro Nuclear has ensured that, in order to function without losing money, and once a bill is in force to subtract the extra income from the rise in CO2 (which they do not support and which this year has also skyrocketed), the market price wholesaler “should not be less than € 57-60 / MWh with the current tax level. Otherwise, the continuity of the Spanish nuclear power plants would be impossible,” they say.
This lobby has demanded a fixed price for this technology, in which there is no freedom of entry (no more nuclear power plants will be built in Spain). Vice President Teresa Ribera has ruled it out because she says that this fixed price is contrary to European regulations. The president of that association, Ignacio Araluce, demanded in the summer that it should be around 57 euros, well above the 18 euros that, according to Ribera, Podemos came to raise as a minimum range in his proposal to remove nuclear power from the pool earlier. of the approval of the Government’s shock plan.
In addition to this temporary reduction, the decree provides, together with the extension of the VAT reduction, the reduction to the minimum of the Tax on Electricity and other measures, forcing nuclear and hydraulic companies to cede their energy to other marketers and large consumers through a system auction.
Appeal to the Constitutional
The electricity companies have warned that the rule goes against Spanish and European regulations, although they cannot appeal it directly. They need an appeal of unconstitutionality to be raised, something that can only be raised, among others, by the autonomous communities or at least fifty deputies. A possible candidate is Vox, the only group that today openly defends the construction of more nuclear power plants in Spain.
A possibility that almost the entire parliamentary arch rejected after the Fukushima disaster and the Government rejects outright based “on the defense of public interests.” In addition to the cost of managing waste and dismantling, the possibility of a nuclear accident “is remote”, but “in the event that it occurs, and without prejudice to the civil liability that the owners of the power plants are obliged to assume. nuclear power plants, experience has shown that it is also the State that ultimately has to bear a large part of the cost of the damage that occurs “.
In addition, according to the Executive, “at present, no electricity company would be interested in starting up a nuclear power plant, nor would any financial entity willing, where appropriate, to finance it, given the uncertainties of all kinds that hang over this type of Projects”.