Spain government vows firm action on nuclear leak

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's government said on Tuesday it would take firm action against a nuclear plant after the watchdog pressed for charges over its handling of a radioactive leak for which 2,600 people had to be screened.

After a months-long investigation, the Nuclear Safety Council (CSN) on Tuesday asked the government to sanction the Asco I plant on four charges of seriously breaching safety regulations arising from a leak in November.

"We all agree, whether we are for or against nuclear power, that it should be safe and that means there can be no manipulation or covering up," Industry Minister Miguel Sebastian said in comments broadcast on state radio.

"Consequently we will act decisively in the sanctions proceedings," he added.

The CSN said that although neither people nor the environment had been harmed by the leak, the plant near the northeastern port of Tarragona had failed to provide adequate information or take proper action to ensure public safety.

The leak originally occurred in November and radioactive particles were detected outdoors on March 14, although the Endesa-owned plant did not tell the CSN until April 4.

Local authorities and environmental groups protested that a school trip to the plant was allowed to go ahead on April 4, a day before the leak was made public.

Neither the government nor the CSN have said what form eventual sanctions might take. The record fine levied against a nuclear plant in Spain is 1.6 million euros ($2.35 million) handed down to the Vandellos II reactor in 2006.

Spain's ageing reactors face an uncertain future in a country where nuclear power is a vote-loser. Both major parties in March elections vowed to gradually replace the plants amidst a boom in renewable energy sources.

(Reporting by Inmaculada Sanz; editing by James Jukwey)

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