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Nuclear Waste Management in Spain : El Cabril and on site storage


This case study was presented by Mr Jorge Lang Lenton (ENRESA), Mr Francisco Castro (Ecologistas en accion) and Mr Mariano Vila d’Abadal (AMAC).

In the 1950s, the El Cabril uranium mine was shut down and started to be used for storing low and intermediate level waste. In 1984 the Spanish Parliament created a public company - ENRESA - to manage low, intermediate and high level nuclear waste. In 1986 ENRESA took responsibility for El Cabril facility and moved the waste from the mines to new built buildings on the same site. In 1987 the Andalusian Parliament issued a resolution against the extension of El Cabril facility. The national Government informed it would provide compensation to local communities. ENRESA eventually reached an agreement with Hornachuelos, the hosting community, and applied for the necessary permits. The central government and the Andalusian government started to negotiate, and the municipality of Hornachuelos and the Andalusian Government finally accepted the extension. Meanwhile ENRESA implemented an openness policy and started to organize visits to El Cabril. Environmentalists started demonstration. Since may 1989 low and intermediate level waste from nuclear power plants are sent to El Cabril. Two information centres were set up in El Cabril and Cordoba. A contentious point is currently that some municipalities have asked to benefit from compensation and have threatened to block the way of trucks to El Cabril if their request was not met. They are opposed in this by municipalities which already benefit from the national compensation fund. In 1996 the Senate set up a working group to prepare a specific regulation to nuclear waste management. Despite a long and constructive dialogue between the various stakeholders, the issue was still a matter for conflict between the two main Spanish parties and no consensus was reached. As regards high level waste specifically, according to the existing regulation Spain will make a decision in year 2010 about the technology to be used for the final management of spent fuel. In the meantime, the Government made decisions to extend the on-site storage capacity of nuclear power plants.

It was stressed that in Spain the discussion on radioactive waste is closely linked with the debate on nuclear power itself. The construction of nuclear power plants was planned and adopted at the time of dictatorship : every struggle for democracy always took an anti-nuclear stand. This opposition has persisted until today when 60% of the population remains against nuclear power. For the environmentalist movement, there is no experience of long term governance as the one requested for radioactive waste. Probability and calculation are viewed an insufficient basis for decision since they cannot match with the time dimension of radioactive waste. Nuclear waste management concepts are a matter for discussion within the environmental movement but there is no consensus so far on any particular option because each one is associated with advantages and drawbacks which are difficult to balance. Moreover, the position of environmental groups is to oppose any kind of high level waste policy as long as nuclear power plants are in operation, but to contribute to identify the “least bad solution”, as soon as plants are closed. Three fundamental requirements are put forward by NGOs : possibility to monitor the status of the waste inside the cask; retrievability; transportation risk mitigation.

In 1988, following conflicts about construction projects on Trillo and Vandellos sites, several municipalities with nuclear power plants joined in an association, called AMAC (Asociación de Municipios en Áreas con Centrales Nucleares). Today, AMAC covers 67 municipalities representing 80 000 inhabitants. The municipalities request a greater participation and public involvement in nuclear issues i.e.: safety and emergency management, on site storage and socioeconomic development. AMAC actions strive towards permanent relations with the Nuclear Safety Council, the inclusion of municipalities in the protocols of information on impacts, in the preparation and implementation of the nuclear emergency plans, and the establishment of economical compensation for municipalities with nuclear installations. AMAC also works on local development issues to prepare the future of the Spanish municipalities when nuclear power plants are decommissioned. In 1991, the fourth national plan for nuclear waste management announced major changes from AMAC’s viewpoint. The plan intended to extend the on site storage capacity in each nuclear power plant. The municipalities opposed the plan which they consider to be a fait accompli policy and AMAC sued the government. AMAC claims for the construction of a centralized temporary storage. The suit was rejected but AMAC have appealed the decision. The outcome is still pending. After the failure of the Senate initiative to build dialogue on nuclear waste management policy, and taking into account the situation of the various actors concerned, AMAC found itself in a position to propose a new framework for discussions.

This proposal is based on the following : • Each actor must assume its political responsibility;

• public confidence on the issue must be increased.

• structures need to be set up for debate (task forces, working group...)

• transparency and participation must be put into practice

• long term governance must be determined

Based on this, AMAC promoted an Act on transparency and participation on nuclear issues before the national and regional governments, Parliament, ENRESA and the regulator, CSN. The proposal includes : • Right of citizens to information • Creation of local information commissions • Creation of a national board for nuclear information

Local commissions operate since 1999 but from the municipalities’ viewpoint, they have proven their inability because of a lack of pluralism and diversity. The receptiveness to this Act proposal was varying. AMAC decided to carry on pressure on Parliament and meanwhile cooperates with CSN and ENRESA to set up a national work group in order to prepare waste policy in Spain.


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