Spain nuclear plants must boost safety -minister

Monday, September 29, 2008

MADRID, Sept 29 (Reuters) - Spain's nuclear power stations must invest in safety if their operating permits are to be renewed in the next three years, Industry Minister Miguel Sebastian said on Monday.

Permits for seven of Spain's eight ageing nuclear plants expire between 2009-11, or within the mandate of the recently re-elected Socialist government.

The government has pledged to phase out the plants and not build new ones, which are unpopular. But it has not ruled out prolonging the working lives of existing plants, which generate about 20 percent of the country's electricity.

"They have time between now and 2011 to make the necessary investments to guarantee safety. If they do, the authorisations will be extended, and if not, then they won't," Sebastian told journalists on the sidelines of an energy conference in Madrid.

Spain's nuclear watchdog told plants recently that renewing their operating permits would depend on how they implemented tighter safety procedures spurred by a rash of unscheduled stoppages.

The Nuclear Safety Council (CSN) is working on a safety and feasibility report on the 500 megawatt Garona plant, whose permit expires in July next year.

The government is mulling sanctions against the 1,000 MW Asco I plant over what the CSN said was improper handling of a radioactive leak that took place in November last year but was not made public until April.

The 1,000 MW Vandellos II plant has been out of action since one of its generators caught fire on Aug. 24.

Spain's number-two utility Endesa wholly owns Asco I and 72 percent of Vandellos II, in which top utility Iberdrola has the remaining 28 percent.

Iberdrola and Endesa jointly own Garona.

Spain has a booming renewable energy sector, and now has the capacity to produce about 16,000 MW from wind power and 1,500 MW from solar panels, which compares to 7,500 MW from nuclear plants.

In practice, however, nuclear power plants work more continuously and have so far tended to produce more than wind parks over time.

Renewables may soon have a greater share of the generation mix, however, as Spain expects to have 20,000 MW of wind power and 3,000 of solar by 2010.

Data from national grid operator REE showed that nuclear power plants have generated 44.4 million megawatt hours so far this year, while wind generators have provided 21.4 million MWh.

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