Cablegate: Future of Nuclear Energy in Spain

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

B. PARIS 7832

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: High oil prices and the ever more
apparent economic costs of compliance with the Kyoto Protocol
should guarantee that the possibility of constructing new
nuclear power plants in Spain remains the subject of public
debate. However, given that the Zapatero Government will
not/not have to take any significant license-related decision
with respect to Spain's nine operating nuclear reactors until
2008, we believe that Zapatero will avoid confronting this
sensitive issue during the 2004-8 term of the current
Congress. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) Spanish business headlines, like those in many other
EU economies, have trumpeted the return of the nuclear energy
option. Pointing to oil at over USD 50 a barrel, and the
growing realization that compliance with the Kyoto Protocol's
restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions will likely increase
energy costs, the Spanish business press has called for the
government to reconsider its 1983 moratorium on the
construction of new nuclear reactors. (NOTE: Spain's
alleged nuclear power plant construction moratorium is
actually a myth. The Socialist Government of Felipe Gonzalez
did indeed impose such a moratorium in 1983, halting
construction of five nuclear power plants. This moratorium
was finalized in the 1994 decision (also by Gonzalez) to
formally abandon the construction of these five facilities.
However, in 1997, the then newly elected Popular Party (PP)
Government removed the construction ban in the context of a
broader effort to liberalize the Spanish electricity market.
Since 1997, the moratorium has been, more than anything,
self-imposed (i.e., industry preferring to avoid forcing the
government's hand on the question, knowing that construction
of additional nuclear power plants would prove too
controversial and thus might not make business sense). END

3. (SBU) To get a handle on whether Spain could actually
resume constructing nuclear power reactors, ESTHOFF conducted
a round of late October meetings with key players in the
Spanish nuclear equation including: (1) Juan Antonio Rubio,
Director General of the Center for Energy, Environment, and
Technology Investigation (CIEMAT); (2) Francisco Javier Arana
Landa, Deputy Director General for Nuclear Energy, Ministry
of Industry, Tourism, and Commerce; (3) Julio Barcelo,
Commissioner, Nuclear Security Council (NSC - Nuclear
Regulatory Commission equivalent); and, (4) Joan Esteve, Head
of Plans and Studies of the Catalan Energy Institute
(Catalonia's energy ministry). All four agreed that the
current Zapatero Government (2004-8) will not/not take any
significant decision regarding the future direction of
nuclear power in Spain, preferring to leave that
controversial decision to the next government. All four
bolstered their views with the same arguments.

4. (U) Spain currently has nine reactors operating in seven
locations providing about 24 percent of the country's
electricity. One of the nine, Zorita (near Guadalajara) will
be closed in April 2006 after 38 years of operation. The
decision to close Zorita was taken by the previous Popular
Party Government and was not controversial, as Zorita was a
test reactor and had already enjoyed one operating license
extension (2001-6). Given its small size, Zorita's closure
will only reduce the nuclear share Spain's electricity
generation to about 23.5 percent (from 24 percent).

5. (SBU) The next reactor license set to expire is that of
Garona (near Burgos), which must shut in 2009 unless its
operating license is extended. Barcelo said Garona's owner
must file a permit extension request by 2006 (to avoid
mandatory shut down in 2009) and that the NSC was required to
prepare a recommendation regarding the expected request that
same year. He presumes the NSC will recommend extending the
license of this facility, which opened in 1971. However, he
stressed that since Garona's license only expires in 2009,
the GOS (i.e., Arana's office inside the Industry Ministry)
is not likely to adjudicate the NSC recommendation until 2008
(after the next general elections). Barcelo and the others
said the Garona decision would be the long awaited indicator
of GOS views vis-a-vis the future of nuclear energy in Spain.
An extension would revive the hopes of those who support new
nuclear power plant construction. An extension denial would
seal the fate of Spain's nuclear future, at least for the
short-term. The other three interlocutors fully agreed with

6. (SBU) After Garona, the Government will have a respite
from further tough nuclear power plant decisions, as Spain's
other seven reactors (not including Zorita and Garona) date
from the 1980s and hold 40 year operating permits. This
means that any license extension requests for these seven
facilities would not be adjudicated until the 2020s.
However, Spain is required by domestic law/regulation to
establish by 2010 a centralized nuclear waste storage
facility. NRC Commissioner Barcelo said the debate over the
site (and the NIMBY sentiments it will undoubtedly stir up),
would form the back drop against which the Garona decision is
taken. He believed this debate would help the foes of
nuclear energy. But on the other hand, he added, electricity
costs were expected to rise over the next five years. This,
he believed, would increase pressure to reconsider the
nuclear option.

7. (SBU) Of the four contacts, Industry Ministry Deputy
Director General for Nuclear Energy Francisco Javier Arana
Landa was clearly the most pessimistic about the short-term
prospects for further nuclear reactor construction in Spain.
During his meeting with ESTHOFF, Arana took a phone call
informing him that a group of anti-nuclear protesters were
trying to penetrate Garona's security. Arana attributed the
protest to the fact that the anti-nuclear lobby was also very
much aware of the importance of the Garona license decision
and wanted to lay down an early marker that they would not
countenance any GOS attempt to back away from its current
anti-nuclear stance. Arana said "the Spanish are more German
than French" (referring to the famed stereotype of the
anti-nuke German and the relative lack of controversy over
nuclear energy in France) and that it would "not be
realistic" to bet that Spain will resume building nuclear
power reactors any time soon. Referring to the fact that
Zapatero, during his inauguration speech last spring,
reiterated his party's commitment to a gradual elimination of
nuclear power, Arana pronounced the issue of further reactor
construction "dead for now." Barcelo summed up the debate as
"not dead anymore, but not yet ripe for change."

8. (SBU) Arana, Barcelo and Rubio stressed the continued
influence of U.S. nuclear developments on the sector's future
in Spain. All suggested that if the U.S. decided to resume
nuclear reactor construction, Spain would be far more likely
to follow suit. CIEMAT Director General Rubio, the grand old
man of Spain's nuclear energy priesthood, went even further,
stating that the U.S. would ultimately decide whether nuclear
fission reactors would have a long-term place in the future
world energy mix. He categorically asserted that if the U.S.
resumes reactor construction, Spain would follow. Agreeing
that the debate was dead through 2008, Rubio said his mission
was to keep the nuclear flame alive in Spain so that there
would be a technological base to support a future decision to
resume advanced reactor construction. For this reason, Spain
would like to participate in France's recently announced
plans to construct a third-generation plus European Pressure
Reactor (EPR) in Flamanville (Ref B).

9. (SBU) COMMENT: Rubio, Barcelo and Arana are among the
leading authorities in Spain on this subject. They were
singing off the same sheet of music (i.e., the nuclear energy
debate is dead through at least 2008) and we believe them.
We do not believe, however, that this issue will stay buried.
Kyoto and the mandatory search for a nuclear waste site (not
to mention possible continued high oil prices) should keep
the issue in the limelight. But we agree with Arana that the
Spanish are more German than French on the subject of nuclear
energy and we doubt public opinion would sustain, at least in
the mid-term, any dramatic reversal of Spain's decision to
phase out nuclear power generation. The potential negatives
would far outweigh the positives, and it would simply defy
logic for Zapatero to try to reverse his party's opposition
to nuclear energy during his first term in office (in
particular because his minority government requires the
support of several smaller parties, many of them quite
anti-nuclear, to get its agenda through Congress).


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