Friday, November 21, 2008

IS THE ANSWER BLOWING IN THE WIND?

As the debate over Esperanto rages below me I am today turning to another hot topic – nuclear power.

Yesterday Greenpeace blocked the entrance to the Garona nuclear power station which is facing closure next year. It has urged the government to shut it down immediately in line with election pledges to phase out nuclear power.

It is a fact that nuclear power is unpopular in Spain and both PSOE and the Partido Popular vowed to build no new plants in the pre-March general election campaign. However to the victorious Socialists fell the prize of deciding whether to extend the working lives of existing plants, which supply about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity.

Now Greenpeace says Spain’s booming renewable energy sector could easily replace the 500 megawatts of power produced by Garona. You may be surprised as I was to learn that Spain is the world’s third-biggest producer of wind power. Indeed wind parks in Spain have the capacity to produce more than twice as much power as nuclear plants, but – and here’s the catch – they actually generate about half as much as the wind does not blow in a constant manner.

I do not have the figures for solar produced power but I know that in San Roque they recently opened the largest generating plant in Andalucía. In addition many communities in the region are now setting up their own solar power facilities. What this region does have in abundance is sun – and on the Costa de la Luz from Tarifa west much wind – but if you head north to Galicia for instance, you might have much wind but sun can be scare.

Nuclear power was already unpopular in Spain and the situation has not been improved by the radioactive leak at the Asco I plant in April. The CSN nuclear watchdog has ruled that the leak was improperly handled and the government has opened sanctions proceedings. There was also a fire at the Vandellos II plant in the summer and this along with other incidents has seen the CSN tell nuclear generators in September that they have to observe tighter safety procedures if their operating permits are to be renewed.

The debate over how our future power should be generated is real both here and in the UK where experts say there could be power cuts within the next five years because of the closure of outdated power stations whilst demand increases. So where do we go from here? Britain intends to follow France by embracing the nuclear option but in Spain the opposite is the case.

Where will our future power come from?

Is the answer blowing in the wind or is wind power just hot air?

1 comment:

Mark - Madrid said...

Like it or not (and I don't) but I believe that nuclear fuel will be the major energy source in the future - what we have to do is makeit safer not protest against it.