Why are nuclear power plants closed?

We have already told you about the nuclear blackout in Spain , that is, the scheduled and staggered closure of all nuclear power plants in our country. By 2034 there will be none and the closing schedule is even accelerating.

In fact, the Almaraz I nuclear power plant turns 40 in June 2020 , and it is possible that it will be closed earlier than initially planned. The dates are indicative and there is still room, but the abandonment of nuclear energy in Spain is irreversible .

Why are nuclear power plants closed in our country? As always with important questions, the answer is made up of several reasons, which we explain here.

1. The abandonment of nuclear energy is a global trend

It should be noted that the closure of nuclear power plants is not something that is happening only in Spain . In fact, our country is not one of the first to join this trend.

In Europe we have Austria, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland… All of them are countries that have already declared, or applied, the closure of all nuclear power plants in their territory.

Indeed, Austria is a curious case. It built a nuclear power plant in the 1970s, but a popular vote in 1978 prevented its commissioning. In the late 1990s, the Austrian government reiterated its anti-nuclear approach and this energy did not catch on in the Alpine country.

In other countries, such as Italy, this closure has already ended and, through a referendum in 2011, the study or start of new projects was prevented. Meanwhile, Germany, like Spain, already only has 7 operational nuclear power plants in 2019 and all of them have, just like here, a set date for closure and dismantling.

The trend is not only in Europe , but nuclear abandonment occurs in other countries as well, such as the United States or South Korea, although the reasons for these closures or abandonment are different.

2. Concern about the danger of nuclear power plants

This is one of the main reasons why some countries have chosen to close nuclear power plants in their territories.

Historically there have been seven major nuclear accidents . However, three of them have been the most famous: the 3 Mile Island in the United States (1979), Chernobyl in Ukraine (1986) and Fukushima in Japan (2011), the latter two being the most serious in history.

Less known are, for example, those of Tokaimura in Japan (1999) or Mayak (Russia) in 1957. However, they have been equally serious.

All these accidents have accelerated the nuclear closure in many countries or motivated popular initiatives that have caused the closures .

For example, after Fukushima, South Korea put its nuclear energy in the spotlight , due to its earthquake risks in the country and scandals related to the construction of plants. Something similar happened in Germany which, that same year 2011, closed 8 reactors and proposed general dismantling plans for 2022 at the latest.

However, accidents are not the only concern, a plant has other risks, which also partly motivate the abandonment of this type of energy.

3. They are dangerous targets for sabotage and terrorism

Nuclear power plants are particularly sensitive targets in the event of sabotage or terrorist attack. A lot of intentional damage can be done by focusing on one spot.

This concern has always been present and has contributed to the abandonment of nuclear energy.

4. Waste is dangerous and complicated to manage

The problem of waste from a nuclear power plant is another reason why these facilities are closed.

Dangerous to transport, they take many years to degrade (thousands) and during that time they are highly polluting, which makes their general management very difficult.

The implementation of nuclear cemeteries is very complicated and nobody wants them close, which creates a problem for governments and has further encouraged their abandonment.

5. Greater awareness against pollution and in favor of the environment

All of the above has been enhanced by the greater awareness we have regarding pollution and the damage we do to the planet by generating energy.

A nuclear power plant has never been well seen and preferences are shifting towards clean and renewable energies , which also partly explains the nuclear decline.

6. The rise of other energies, cleaner and less dangerous

Innovation in the field of renewables is making it more profitable and easier to extract electricity from clean sources. This is causing the investment of companies and governments to focus on them. An example is China, and its enormous commitment to solar energy.

Similarly, in the United States, for example, the nuclear decline was due, in part, to the drop in natural gas prices, which made it more attractive. Although gas is not a renewable energy, it is much cleaner and less dangerous. That, coupled with ongoing investment in renewables, is causing nuclear power to continue to decline, year after year, in North America.

Some countries however, like Brazil, are planning to increase the use of that energy, and others, like France, are putting it on hold and have not clearly announced closures or abandonment.

As we can see, there is no single reason for the closure of nuclear power plants in Spain and, in general, in the world. However, it seems that the global decline is clear and, in some countries, like ours, irreversible.

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