Garoña nuclear plant begins gradual shutdown

Owners decide to disconnect from electric grid to avoid paying new energy tax

A control panel at the Garoña nuclear plant in Burgos.
A control panel at the Garoña nuclear plant in Burgos.GORKA LEJARCEGI (EL PAÍS)

Spain’s oldest nuclear reactor disconnected its energy supply to the nation’s electric grid on Sunday as part of a gradual shutdown of the Garoña plant, after its owners decided not to begin paying a new energy tax imposed by the government.

Endesa and Iberdrola, the owners of the plant, made the decision to terminate Garoña’s operations seven months ahead of schedule and begin emptying all the nuclear material before the tax kicks in on January 1.

The plant, which was opened in 1971 — the same year as Japan’s Fukushima was built — only provided about one percent of the country’s electrical power.

But the plant was the focus of concerns by environmentalists and some scientists after the Fukushima nuclear accident earlier this year. The previous Socialist government had prolonged the lifespan of Garoña until next July, but a 2,190-euro tax on each kilo of uranium spent, which was introduced by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, forced Endesa and Iberdrola to bring forward the closing date.

The tax was part of the Industry Ministry’s energy reform bill, which was approved by the Senate on Thursday and is expected to be passed by Congress this week.

According to Nuclenor, the partnership formed by Endesa and Iberdrola that operates Garoña, it would cost 153 million euros a year to continue operating the plant because of the tax.

Rafael González, the mayor of Valle de Tobalina where Garoña is located, said that the closure would mean a loss of about 300 direct jobs plus 500 subcontractors. “They deceived us all,” said one union leader.

While in opposition in 2009, Rajoy promised to keep the plant going until well after 2013.

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