Nuclear power and energy transition in the post COVID-19 era

In the energy transition that must begin in Spain, one source of electric generation is essential –not just necessary– in order to comply with the internationally established agreements for the mitigation of climate change. I am talking about nuclear power.

National and international organizations agree that the future energy mix must keep the technologies that contribute to reducing greenhouse effect gas emissions. One of these technologies is nuclear. The operation of nuclear power plants does not produce any CO2 emissions. In fact, in 2019 nuclear power produced over 36% of the emissions-free electricity in Spain.

Additionally, nuclear is a firm, uninterrupted source of bulk electric generation that contributes to guarantee energy supply. In the past fiscal year, the nuclear fleet had global load, operation and availability factors above 90%. The seven operating nuclear reactors in our country (Ascó I & II, Almaraz I & II, Cofrentes, Trillo and Vandellós II) became, one more year and for the past decade, the first source of electric production. They generated 55 824 GWh, over 21% of the total net electric production.

Nuclear power will continue to operate during the next years, as indicated in the 2021-2030 National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC). This plan and the future Climate Change and Energy Transition Law form the pillar of the Spanish government’s energy and climate program. The characteristics of the Spanish nuclear electric generation fleet –both its contribution to the technical equilibrium of the system and to the fulfillment of climate goals– make its role in the development of energy transition even more relevant.

The declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences have caused a sharp decline of economic activity and electric energy demand in Spain. This fact, along with a price cut in raw energy materials in international markets, led to a great reduction of the average price of electric generation. Since mid-March 2020, this price does not cover the operating costs of Spanish nuclear power plants, including the taxes and duties they are subjected to. For this reason, the competent authorities must review the tributes that specifically tax –in some cases, redundantly so– nuclear electric generation in Spain. This is necessary in order to safeguard their economic feasibility.

 The continuity of operation of nuclear power plants also involves the maintenance of the Spanish nuclear industry, which has earned great prestige and international recognition thanks to its accumulated experience, high technological level and training for the nearly 28 000 people that participate in its activities.

This industry sector covers almost the entire value chain for the fuel cycle in Spain. Beyond nuclear power plants are many employment-generating companies with an important economic activity, both in their immediate surroundings and the country’s entire economy, which also invest sparingly in research, design and innovation.

All of these facts show that nuclear power is essential to the realization of this necessary transition towards a sustainable socioeconomic, environmentally-friendly energy model that guarantees the recovery of progress and welfare for all citizens. For this reason, neutral game rules must be established to facilitate the balanced participation of the various technologies in the decarbonization and competitivity of our social market economy.


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