nuclear energy

nuclear energy
   Nuclear energy raised the possibility of cheap, pollution-free energy of almost infinite duration that would diversify and revolutionize the traditional energy base. In practice, the application of nuclear energy to the generation of electricity was accompanied by serious technological and cost problems, raising public concern over the risks of this form of power. As a result, the nuclear energy programme in Spain was frozen in the 1980s leaving electricity companies with a mountain of debt. Nevertheless, in the mid-1990s nuclear energy constituted about half of all primary energy production in Spain and provided the source of power for about one-third of all electricity generation.
   In 1963 a law was passed that opened the door to the development of nuclear energy in Spain. In the same year authorization was given for the development of the first nuclear power station (José Cabrera Zorita), which began operating in August 1969. In 1971 Santa María de Geroña, and in 1972 Vandellós 1, started operating; these three power stations represented the first generation of nuclear power stations in Spain. The main push towards the development of nuclear energy came at the beginning of the 1970s with the authorization in 1973 of a further seven nuclear power stations. The escalation of oil prices during the 1970s led to support for nuclear power in the First National Energy Plan, which envisaged a major expansion of nuclear power to 56 percent of electricity generation by 1985. These figures were later revised downwards but support remained for continuing work on the second generation of reactors and for a third generation of plants.
   Enthusiasm for nuclear energy waned in the 1980s, initially in the light of slackening demand and high construction costs, but increasingly amidst worries over safety (inflamed in the mid 1980s by accidents at Three-Mile Island and Chernobyl and then by a fire at Vandellós 1 in 1989), technical problems (including the disposal of nuclear waste), the problems and costs of decom-missioning, and lower conventional energy prices. In 1984 a number of construction programmes were suspended leaving electricity utilities with a substantial debt burden, which became a factor in electricity industry restructuring and led to a surcharge on consumers. Under the Fourth National Energy Plan the moratorium on nuclear energy continued with the contribution of nuclear power anticipated to fall to only 23 percent of all electricity generation by the year 2000. At the beginning of 1998 there were nine nuclear power stations in operation (mostly pressurized water reactors) with an installed capacity of 7,580 megawatts. Nuclear power stimulated development of the uranium industry in Spain. The National Uranium Company (Enusa) was constituted in 1972 to develop uranium mining, ensure uranium supplies to power stations and provide nuclear technology services. Uranium mineral has been mined in Salamanca and in Badajoz. As in other countries, there is concern over the storage of nuclear waste and the dismantling of nuclear power stations. Currently, nuclear waste is stored at power station sites, although some low-level waste is stored at the El Cabril mine in Cordoba. The task of dismantling power stations began with Vandellós 1. Control over nuclear waste and responsibility for dismantling nuclear power plants is in the hands of the public company Enresa.
   Further reading
   - Salmon, K. (1995) The Modern Spanish economy, 2nd edn, London: Cassell (chapter 5, especially pp. 156–9, deals with the role of nuclear energy in electricity generation).
   - Tamames, R. Estructura económica de España, Madrid: Alianza Editorial (the topic is covered in Spanish in each of the numerous editions).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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