Spain nuclear plants halted, watchdog calls meeting

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

MADRID, Aug 25 (Reuters) - Spain's nuclear watchdog on Monday called for a meeting of plant operators following the second unscheduled disconnection of a reactor in as many days.
The Nuclear Safety Council (CSN) confirmed earlier reports by industry sources that the 500-megawatt Garona plant was off line, due to an error in work on high-voltage installations which automatically halted the plant.

On Sunday, the 1,000 MW Vandellos II plant was halted automatically when one of its generators caught fire.

The fire was extinguished within 90 minutes, but the CSN said the plant would be halted until the full extent of the damage could be determined.

Experts from Siemens and ABB were due to arrive at the plant near the northeastern port of Tarragona to help investigate the causes of the fire.

A separate statement from Vandellos II's operators said checking the damaged plant could take several weeks.

"The CSN has decided to call a meeting of the liaison committee, in which owners of all nuclear assets are represented, to follow up on the latest incidents in the plants and analyse the operators' action plans," a CSN statement said.

The watchdog added that the fire at Vandellos II had no radioactive consequences, and people and the environment were at no risk at Garona.

A third reactor, Almaraz I, was meanwhile working at some 70 percent of its 1,000 MW capacity, a spokeswoman said, although technicians were not available for comment on the causes.

Last week the CSN asked the government to sanction the operators of the 1,000 MW Asco I plant -- who also run Vandellos II -- over serious breaches of safety rules following a radioactive leak in November.

Spain's eight ageing nuclear power stations face an uncertain future as the government has vowed to phase them out in favour of a booming renewable energy sector. Neither major party in March's elections vowed to build new nuclear plants.

Permits for running seven of the plants expire between 2009 and 2011, or within the mandate of the Socialist government.

The government has not, however, ruled out extending any of the plants' working lives and the CSN is working on a safety report for Garona, which it is due to submit to the Industry Ministry for approval by June 2009.

Garona is run by Nuclenor, which is jointly owned by Spain's two biggest utilities, Iberdrola and Endesa. Vandellos II is 72 percent owned by Endesa, while Iberdrola has the remaining 28 percent.
Data from national grid operator REE showed that Spain's reactors were supplying 5,512 MW by 1420 GMT, down from about 7,300 on Friday.

Less supply from nuclear reactors tends to push up the wholesale price of power for prompt delivery.

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