In the heat of the electricity war between the companies and the Government on account of the electricity tariff, the nuclear power plants have come to the fore in the dialectical debate. The electricity companies threaten to close reactors without the issue of radioactive waste being resolved (completely), beyond opening new individual temporary warehouses (ATI).
Nuclear power plants in the light crisis: from the threat of a blackout to the pending decision on the waste warehouse
The Association of Municipalities in Nuclear Power Plant Areas (AMAC) has the fly behind its ear and throughout this year 2021 it has intensified its messages to the industry and also to policy makers. What about the future of these areas with a fast-moving schedule toward nuclear shutdown? What to do with the waste? Look for answers and also be able to give your opinion more.
On October 14, the General Assembly of the Group of European Municipalities with nuclear facilities (GMF) is held electronically. If in 2020 the closure of the plants was a central issue of interest, this year on the table is the electricity tariff in Europe.
The president of AMAC, Juan Pedro Sánchez, is mayor of Yebra (Guadalajara), a province with two nuclear plants: the ‘José Cabrera’ of Zorita closed since 2006 and Trillo that plans to close in 2035. In an interview he talks about these and others issues.
The 2.6 billion euro cut to electricity companies to lower the bill charges of consumers, especially households and SMEs could affect, among other issues, nuclear power plants. What is AMAC’s position on this issue?
If in the end what it means is to anticipate the closure of the nuclear power plants, change the closure schedule agreed between 2027 for Almaraz, ending in 2035 with Trillo, for us it is ruin. It is for populations that have very few industrial or employment opportunities. What it means is to advance in time the loss of jobs and development.
The news, if confirmed, would be terrible but I do not think it is not so easy to turn off the nuclear power plants, although it can be done by way of non-renewal of licenses, which are usually granted for about ten years and now there is no pending renewal in a near horizon.
Are the nuclear municipalities afraid of being the pagans of the conflict over the electricity tariff?
Of course. In the end, as they say, they are going to kick our ass. The one and the other.
It is the power companies, owners of the plants, who have threatened a unilateral and “disorderly” closure of the reactors …
Regardless of the reasons they may have, it does not seem appropriate to us. They must take into consideration the territories and that rural world that for so long has contributed to a good climate, working for transparency and security. For those peoples who have helped people understand what nuclear energy is. I think other things have to be valued.
And do you think that the population has enough information about nuclear safety, the operation of power plants or the storage of radioactive waste?
Nuclear energy has never been explained enough and I also believe that it has been used politically. This type of energy has been done a disservice.
In our regions there is greater affectation and we are more informed. Security plans have been worked out. We know what the dangers are. Nuclear power plants are stigmatized and not exactly an economic pole of attraction, probably without reason.
We recently signed an agreement with the Nuclear Safety Council to improve information channels. On October 5, the municipalities integrated in the AMAC will visit its headquarters. It is the only reference that we have as a regulatory body.
When you talk about ‘nuclear’ territories, what do you mean in terms of social or economic impact?
Well, if there are seven nuclear reactors in operation in Spain, with a regular staff of 700 or 800 people in each one, the account can be taken. Employment is important but there are also the income that municipalities receive from the nuclear presence. If Trillo receives 6 and 8 million for the activity of the plant, it can reinvest it and also create jobs.
I think we can talk about 30,000 direct and indirect jobs that would be affected and small businesses, freelancers, restaurants in the area …
How are AMAC-Government relations? In April you announced a possible break …
(Laughter) We have our ups and downs. He took steps that we didn’t understand. They tried to modify the Nuclear Energy Law of 1964 through an amendment to the Climate Change Law, declaring of general interest all the works under the General Radioactive Waste Plan that marks its future management.
This means that an Individual Temporary Warehouse (ATI) in any plant does not need a municipal permit. That affects our economy and it seemed outrageous not being able to give an opinion. Fortunately, the initial approval in Congress was partially reversed in the Senate with the support of 90% of political groups.
Now at least a previous municipal report will be needed that will generate rights in terms of rates. Sometimes they approve things in Madrid without knowing their scope.
Do you feel excluded from the nuclear waste management policy?
They certainly make decisions that are sometimes difficult to understand. On July 28, the president of ENRESA called us to tell us that four new ATIs were going to be built in Spain with a technology that would allow the waste to be kept there for almost 100 years. They told us about a tender for 200 million euros that was going to go out and that was going to be approved imminently by the Council of Ministers. Man, these things affect us and if they are done behind our backs … It is no longer the background but the forms.
But Enresa continues to bet on the construction of the Centralized Temporary Warehouse (ATC)
ATIs are small ATCs. The difference, and that is what we emphasize, is that they do not have a hot cell that allows the containers to be handled in the event of any contingency. These stores do not contemplate it.
If you have already made an investment in projects in Villar de Cañas of 100 million euros, now bet on four ITAs, I do not know whether to say that it is bordering on misappropriation of funds. Two different investments on the same issue, and without closing one of them …
It cannot be done with the back of the municipalities because it generates mistrust in the population. We have proposed a deal on nuclear waste. That we sit down and talk calmly about the strategies to follow and do it in times of peace, when there are no conflicts involved.
At this point, is AMAC then in favor of building a centralized temporary store or having individuals perhaps prefer the deep geological store option?
We are for an ATC. It is temporary and is the best option because waste is centralized, for reasons of safety and economic efficiency. This gives us a margin of up to 60 years until we know what to do with the waste. Yes, it can be a deep geological store. Everything can evolve. It is not the same to manage 1,000 tons than 100. In addition, we do not know if it can go to reprocessing …
We maintain what we said 15 years ago: build the ATC and also do it in a technically appropriate place, without political nuances, because we will not agree. That’s crazy.
Building the ATC in Villar de Cañas was not the right decision of the Popular Party at the time. A lot of time has been lost. The technically appropriate location was not chosen
Juan Pedro Sanchez
– President of the AMAC and mayor of Yebra (Guadalajara)
And while, waste continues to increase
Effectively. They continue to grow in addition to the small part that we have in France for which we continue to pay 20 million annually. We no longer send spent fuel, we have it in the swimming pools or in the ATIs.
A lot of time has been lost. The technically correct location was not chosen. There were four and two very good: Ascó, in Tarragona that had its problems and Yebra. Even though I am the president of AMAC [también es el alcalde de este pueblo de Guadalajara] I think Yebra was the best location.
In any case, the election of Villar de Cañas was made by his party, the Popular Party …
Yes Yes. I don’t save anyone here. It was a decision of the PP recently arrived at the Government of Spain, Castilla-la Mancha with Dolores de Cospedal, the municipal government and also governed in the Diputación.
I blame those who made the decisions back in the day. No clothes hurt to say it. I do not know if afterwards they have remained in error. I think it was not the right decision of the Popular Party at the time.
While the debate on waste continues, the Institute for Just Transition has been created and two protocols have been signed to promote development in the Zorita and Garoña areas, once the nuclear plants have been closed. Is there progress to give the municipalities an economic outlet?
People get impatient and right. Zorita is almost dismantled, she has very little left to be a plot. But these things inevitably take time.
Through the Just Transition Institute there will be funds for these areas, but there is a process of participation, public information … In the case of Garoña, in addition to the central nucleus of 14 municipalities, up to 27 municipalities have been included, including Miranda de Ebro Well, it can benefit, but the most affected are those closest to the plant. All questions are difficult.
And in Zorita … What do you put to balance the loss of job? It’s hard. It takes time to ask the opinion of those who live on the ground.
Will something come to them through the European Next Generation-EU recovery funds?
Yes, yes, but it is about having attractive projects. There must be a set of other measures such as positive tax discrimination. They are very sparsely populated areas in the interior, with the exception of Vandellòs. If we believe the demographic challenge, we must help more.
By the way, how about the idea of a public energy company?
I am not a supporter. I think the less interventionism, the better. I think electricity prices will not contribute. There are already unflattering experiences. Today no one doubts that there is climate change, that renewable energies are good, but the best thing is to bet on an energy mix. As for nuclear, waste is few and highly controlled. In return, it allows us reasonably low prices that help to lighten household bills. We have nuclear energy 24/7, 365 days a year.
When technology allows us to live with only one of these energies, the most advantageous, let’s take advantage.