As Spain prepares to shutter its fleet of seven nuclear power plants, France considers adding more than 14 new ones.
The Spanish government announced in December plans to phase out the country’s reactors, with the first plant shutdown scheduled for 2027. Nuclear power sparked debate during the most recent election cycle. When the Spanish Socialist Workers’ party won a majority of seats last year, it promised “the orderly and progressive dismantling” of nuclear plants using a fund paid into by plant operators. The effort is estimated to ultimately cost about $22.4 billion.
According to government plans, Almaraz-1, a 1,011-MW pressurized water reactor that began commercial operation in 1983, is the first unit scheduled to close.
France adds nuclear: Meanwhile, in France—where there are plans for constructing six new European PWRs and studies for eight more—energy transition minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher has said that the government should discuss building even more plants.
France wants to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels from 60 percent to 40 percent by 2035. Discussion around nuclear’s future in that country is expected as their parliament comes into session this month.
Big picture: Today, more than 100 nuclear power plants are responsible for about a quarter of electricity generation in the European Union—and for nearly half of all carbon-free electricity in the EU.
On April 15, 2023, Germany shuttered its three remaining nuclear power plants, bringing an end to the production of any nuclear electricity. The country announced plans in 2011 to phase out nuclear, largely in response to the Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan. When energy supply in the region was constricted as a result of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, German officials moved to keep its last nuclear plants on line throughout the winter of 2022 to shore up supplies.
Some in Germany opposed the move, with a broad group of scientists in the final weeks of nuclear plant operations calling on the government to spare the remaining nuclear plants, which still produced enough zero-emission energy to power 10 million German households each year. Scientists in their open letter to the German government pointed to France, the United Kingdom, Poland, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands, among others—countries that are “planning to build new nuclear power plants or are already doing so, while Belgium and Switzerland are seeking to extend the operating licenses of their plants.”
Debate continues: “Europe cannot achieve its existing emissions targets without a partial diversification toward expanded use of nuclear energy. Nuclear energy should be seen as complementary with renewable energy toward lowering carbon emissions,” stated an Atlantic Council report published last October.
One of Spain’s top business lobby groups, Círculo de Empresarios, is pushing the government to extend the lives of the country’s nuclear plants. The stability of the energy system requires a diverse energy mix, said Manuel Pérez-Sala, chair of the lobby, at an energy transition event in Madrid.
Most recently at COP28, 22 countries—not including Spain—signed a pledge to triple nuclear generation capacity by 2050.