A safe energy supply, at a reasonable price, and without serious environmental consequences, will be one of the most pressing and difficult problems in the near future. In fact, it is already a serious problem. The majority of energy comes from combustible fossil fuels. This is clearly unsustainable given the problems of depending on just a few producer countries, their intrinsic scarcity and the carbon dioxide emissions that are generated, which contribute to global warming. If we want a more sustainable situation within the next few decades, a profound change in our lifestyle habits will be needed, as well as a significant rise in production from other energy sources, such as nuclear and renewable.
In global terms, renewable energy counts for an insignificant fraction of production, with a few exceptions, including Spain. For this reason, it is important to continue driving this sector. But nuclear energy is also necessary, given that its reliability and constancy perfectly complement renewable energy sources, which are, by their very nature, intermittent.
In Europe, nuclear energy accounts for approximately 30 percent of electricity generated; and in Spain, around 18 percent. Doing away with it does not seem particularly plausible. While the existing installations continue to function with safety guarantees, keeping them on is a reasonable proposition, as is replacing old reactors with new, more efficient and safer ones when their maintenance is no longer feasible. On that basis, it is hard to understand why the government would include a 40-year life span for nuclear power stations in the Sustainable Economy Law. This criteria of four decades was an excuse to close the Garoña plant, a political price paid by the government to placate those who would like to see all nuclear power abandoned. Now the government has changed its criteria, as part of a necessary step toward the acceptance that the closure of the already-existing nuclear power stations makes little sense.
In Spain, it is the Nuclear Security Council that must produce a report when there is a request for a power plant's life to be extended- a report that will cover the safety aspects over the requested period, normally 10 years. A badly run or badly designed plant must stop operating independently of any agreed period. But if the power station has been properly managed and the appropriate investments have been made, it can continue to operate.
The amendment to the Sustainable Economy Law- which was approved in Congress with the support of the ruling Socialists, the opposition Popular Party, the Catalan nationalist party CiU and the Basque Nationalist Party- has done away with that limitation and allows for a flexible mechanism to be put in place, paving the way for evaluation on a case-by-case basis, as well as getting the most out of investments that have already been made. This is a logical change, which corrects an anomaly that never should have occurred in the first place.