Spanish Government Has Moved to Limit Nuclear Development in October 2020

Featured Image: Proposed bill to reach a carbon neutral economy by 2050. (Photo: magnuscmd.com)

The Climate Bill

The Spanish government has proposed a bill to reach a carbon neutral economy by 2050 meaning the country will emit the same level of greenhouse gases that its sinks can absorb. The Draft Law on Climate Change and Energy Transition has been approved by the Council of Ministers on Tuesday 19th May 2020. The draft focuses on fossil fuels, hydrocarbons, and fracking, there is no mention of radioactive exploration (such as Uranium). The new law on climate change and energy transition in Spain aims to contribute to fulfilling the goals of the Paris Agreement. This will mean a greener and more sustainable economy that will help Spain recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. Covid-19 has wreaked havoc for economies across the Globe but according to the Financial Times and various economists, research has suggested that Spain is set to suffer worse than any other European economy from the crisis.

Proposed changes to the bill 

However on Wednesday 14th October a series of amendments were proposed to the original draft of the climate change and energy transition bill. These changes are backed by 2 left-wing political parties in the Spanish Government (PSOE and Unidas Podemos) and seek to ban the investigation and exploitation of radioactive minerals.  These changes have major impacts for nuclear development.

Who will these changes impact?

One interested party is Berkeley Energia Limited who for the past several years have been going through the process of planning and attaining approval for their Uranium mines in Salamanca, a project that will produce 4.4 million pounds of Uranium annually. This will be the equivalent of 10% of Europe’s total consumption. In addition the project will generate 450 direct jobs and up to 2,000 indirect jobs for a community with long-term unemployment due to the cessation of previous mining projects. In August 2016 the company entered the development phase with initial infrastructure work on site taking place. The design of the project ‘incorporates the very latest thinking on minimal environmental impact and continuous rehabilitation such that land use during mining and processing activities is quickly restored to agricultural usage’. The project is ‘certified by AENOR on the ISO 14,001 (Environmental Management) and UNE 22470-80 (Sustainable Mining)’.

If the proposed changes are passed this will stop major mining projects in their tracks such as the Salamanca Project which is now only waiting for the authorisation for the construction of a Uranium concentration plant.

Berkeley Energia have stated that the ‘prohibition of economic activities in Spain with no justified reason is contrary to the spanish constitution and to the legal rights recognised by other international states’. The company has ‘legal, valid and consolidated rights for investigation and exploitation of it’s Salamanca mining projects, including a valid 30 year mining licence (that is renewable for a further two periods of 30 years)’.

With over 120 previously granted permits in their favour and all the work they have put in over the years, you can see why Berkeley is opposing the proposed changes to the bill.

Figure 1. Location of proposed Salamanca Uranium Mines in Northwestern Spain.
Figure 1. Location of proposed Salamanca Uranium Mines in Northwestern Spain.

How will the bill go through?

It’s not all doom and gloom for the nuclear sector just yet, drumroll please…….. At this stage it is only a proposed change to the draft climate change and energy transition bill. The amendments must now be reviewed and subsequently approved or rejected by the Commission of Ecological Transition of the Parliament and also the Senate. Both the Senate and Parliament must complete the process and the proposed changes must be supported by a majority of votes in both bodies in order for it to be passed.

Summary

At the moment Spain is, for all intents and purposes, independent of the EU grid - meaning that electricity self-sufficiency is paramount. In 2017 total electricity was generated by 23% natural gas, 21% nuclear, 18% wind, 17% coal, 8% hydro, 6% oil and 5% solar. ‘Spain imported about 24 TWh of electricity in 2017, and exported about 15 TWh. At the end of​ 2017, net installed capacity was 104 GW (Giga Watts), of which nuclear accounted for 7.1 GW (7%)’.

The opinions on nuclear power in Spain are divided with groups like MIA (Iberian Anti-Nuclear movement) and other environmental activists protesting heavily against the proposed mines in Salamanca in early June 2018. This could be considered a win for such groups.

On the other hand, with such a high proportion of Spain's electricity generation coming from Nuclear energy the ban on its use could have some very negative effects in achieving a net zero Carbon economy by 2050 in line with Paris Agreement targets. It is possible that Spain will rely more heavily on it’s hydrocarbon sources of power (which produce far more greenhouse gases) to generate the deficit of power created by the ban.
So if the ban is put into action then it can be considered a loss for the Spanish people, the EU (Paris Agreement), Berkeley Energia and the tremendous investment into the nuclear sector thus far.

As it stands it is a waiting game, whilst these changes are reviewed and debated by Parliament and the Senate. It will be interesting to see what the outcome will be and the implications for Spain's energy sector.

Figure 2. Protests against the Salamanca Project of which 1000’s of people attended in June 2018 (Photo by the Iberian Antinuclear Movement, Twitter.)
Figure 2. Protests against the Salamanca Project of which 1000’s of people attended in June 2018 (Photo by the Iberian Antinuclear Movement, Twitter.)

Abigail Porter
Spotlight Mining

Further information:

https://www.magnuscmd.com/the-new-law-on-climate-change-and-energy-transition/ 

The Draft Law on Climate Change and Energy Transition:​

https://www.miteco.gob.es/es/prensa/proyectodeleydecambioclimaticoytransicionenerge tica_tcm30-509256.pdf

Berkeley Energia: https://www.berkeleyenergia.com

https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-o-s/spain.aspx

Financial Times: https://www.ft.com/content/396415a2-7778-4675-8bec-da8fca154bca