Lucrative interim storage facility: spanish village in nuclear fortune

A municipality in central Spain is awarded the contract for a central interim nuclear waste storage facility. The mayor is delighted with the windfall from Madrid.

Not only the mayor Jose MarIa Saiz (m.) rejoices in Villar de Canas about the government’s decision. Photo: dpa

There is a gold-rush atmosphere in Villar de Canas. Since the town of 441 souls not far from the central Spanish city of Cuenca was awarded the contract for a central interim nuclear waste storage facility at the last cabinet meeting before the end of the year, the calls to Mayor Jose MarIa Saiz have not stopped.

"This is sheer madness," he says. More than 2,000 resumes have already been received from people looking for jobs. Small business owners are looking for commercial space, others want to buy land and apartments. "I already knew there was a strong crisis out there, but I didn’t expect this," Saiz explains.

For seven years, the Spanish government has been looking for a place to centrally store waste from Spain’s seven nuclear power plants. Nine villages have applied. But so far, Madrid has not been able to convince any of them to accept the bid. Nuclear waste storage facilities are unpopular. And that could mean losing votes in the affected region.

The new government of conservative Mariano Rajoy is now daring. It won the November elections with an absolute majority. After the elimination process, Villar de Canas was considered the favorite.

Other villages with better infrastructure were either in regions where the opposition or nationalists call the shots, or have municipal governments that are involved in construction corruption.

The Spanish nuclear waste is to be stored temporarily in the village of Villar de Canas with its 441 inhabitants. Picture: dpa

Villar de Canas has no train connection and no experience with nuclear installations – both of which scored points in the bidding process – but the mayor belongs to Rajoy’s Partido Popular, as does the government of the Castilla-La Mancha region, where the village is located. That promises few protests.

"Everyone agrees with us," Saiz explains with satisfaction. Opponents of nuclear waste are nonexistent in the village, where mostly old people live. The history of emigration and emigration is long here.

Most of those of working age work in one of Spain’s major metropolitan areas. Earlier generations went to other European countries.

Saiz expects 300 jobs during the three-year construction phase for the halls in which the nuclear waste will be stored in dry conditions, and then 150 for operations. Then there are the indirect jobs that are expected to be created in the village as a result of the new economic force.

Mayor hopes for jobs

The mayor expects around 1,000. The nuclear waste repository represents a direct investment of 284 million euros. Despite the crisis, there is no lack of money. The state-owned company for nuclear waste, Enresa, has had the storage of the waste pre-financed for years through electricity tariffs.

The communities around the nuclear waste storage facility are to receive 6.3 million euros annually. 2.4 million will go to the municipal coffers of Villar de Canas. Saiz is planning a retirement home and other public facilities.

The cautionary voices come from outside. For environmentalists in the cities of Castilla-La Manchas and Madrid, just an hour and a half away by car, Rajoy is doing "the nuclear industry a favor" with the quick decision – the go-ahead was given at the second cabinet meeting of the new government.

Only an interim solution

The new government is considering lifetime extensions for reactors that should be retired. "We are not going to shut down any reactor now that we want to lower the price of electricity," says Industry Minister Jose Manuel Soria.

"It’s only a solution for the next 60 years, and then no one knows what will happen to the roughly 7,000 tons of nuclear waste," complains Francisco Castejon, a nuclear expert with the Spanish environmental organization Ecologistas en Accion.

He calls for a phase-out of nuclear energy – "as long as that doesn’t happen, new nuclear waste will be added all the time." Only after a phase-out could a final solution to the problem of nuclear waste be found. Environmentalists are planning a large demonstration for mid-February.

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