The report warns that “given the great challenge” for achieving carbon neutrality in 2050, the high level of nuclear technology infrastructure and skilled professionals in Spain could be used for developing and implementing long-term energy strategies including using nuclear to contribute to the decarbonisation of the electricity system and hard-to-abate sectors such as manufacturing and transport
Spain has decided to phase out its fleet of seven commercial nuclear reactors by 2035, but the report warns this might not be straightforward.
It says the government needs to closely monitor the financial situation of its “excellent” reactor fleet to prevent any unforeseen or sudden final shutdowns that could significantly deteriorate the security of electricity supply.
The phaseout of low-carbon nuclear, along with a planned phaseout of coal plants, means natural gas combined-cycle plants will be crucial to balancing out a power system that is heavily dependent on variable renewables once coal and nuclear have left the market.
“As such, the government will need to pay special attention to prevent natural gas generation capacity from simultaneously exiting the system,” the report says. “In this regard, the government should thoroughly assess the cost implications for consumers of the expedited phase-out of both coal and nuclear generation.”
The report says the performance of Spain’s nuclear reactors has been excellent. They accounted for 22% of power generation in 2019 and have been an important source of low-carbon generation.
Nuclear plants have maintained “remarkable” capacity factors of around 90% for the last decade, the report says. They have contributed to the security of supply, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and diversification of energy sources.
The report says that according to some nuclear licensees, they currently operate their nuclear plants at a loss due to high taxation on nuclear generation and low electricity market prices, so they might opt to exit the market sooner. This would imply changes in the electricity mix.
According to a calculation by Endesa, part-owner of six nuclear plants in Spain, current nuclear generation costs are well over €50/MWh, around 40% of which are taxes and fees for radioactive waste management. The company claims to operate nuclear plants with economic losses under the prevailing Mibel (Iberian power market or Mercado Ibérico de Electricidad) market price, which has dropped due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Average Mibel prices were around €40/MWh or less during the third quarter of 2020, much lower than the nuclear generation cost.
The Madrid-based nuclear industry group Foro Nuclear has repeatedly urged the government to reduce what it recently called the “suffocating” fiscal pressure on the nuclear fleet.
There is also concern for the large impact on employment of the highly skilled workforce by the final shutdown of nuclear power plants. However, no concrete measures have been put in place for transitional support so far.
The report calls on Spain to implement a back-end strategy, including a centralised storage facility and a deep geological repository, to avoid any unnecessary cost increases for the decommissioning of nuclear plants and radioactive waste management, including final waste disposal.
Enresa, Spain’s national agency in charge of radioactive waste management and the decommissioning of nuclear sites, intends by 2024 to formulate a proposal for the site designation process and basic information for the planning process.
The IEA’s comments follow an International Atomic Energy Agency report in 2018 that said Spain could face challenges in the implementation of its radioactive waste management strategy and the government should ensure that delays in establishing a centralised storage facility do not affect the safe management of spent fuel and higher-level waste. The IAEA said Spain had shown “a strong commitment” to nuclear and radiation safety, but should take immediate steps to update the national radioactive waste plan.
Spain’s Nuclear Phaseout: The Schedule
Nuclear plants will begin shutting down from 2027. Four of Spain’s seven nuclear reactors are scheduled to close by the end of 2030, representing around 4 GW of capacity. As of 2020, three nuclear units have been permanently shut down: Vandellos-1 in 1990, Jose Cabrera in 2006 and Santa Maria de Garona in 2012.
Spain’s National Energy and Climate Plan 2021-2030 (NECP) foresees a sequential reduction of the country’s nuclear power capacity from 2027 to 2035. According to this plan, nuclear generation capacity will be reduced to around 3.2 GW by 2030 and to zero by 2035.
Almaraz-1: November 2027
Almaraz-2: October 2028
Asco-1: October 2030
Cofrentes: November 2030
Asco-2: September 2032
Vandellos-2: February 2035
Trillo-1: May 2035