June 8, 2010 / 11:42 AM / in 7 years

UPDATE 2-Spanish nuclear plants' operating permits renewed

* Two plants to run until at least 2020

* Government considers relaxing 40-year limit

* 1,000 MW Vandellos II plant up for renewal on July 26

(Adds government confirmation, reaction)

By Martin Roberts

MADRID, June 8 (Reuters) - Spain, which until recently had one of the strongest anti-nuclear policies in Europe, on Tuesday said it decided to renew an operating permit for two of the country’s eight nuclear power plants.

“This permit will take effect as of today and will be valid for 10 years,” an Industry Ministry statement said.

Spain’s nuclear watchdog CSN had already ruled on April 30 that the Almaraz I and II plants were safe to run for another 10 years. The previous permit expired on Tuesday and the government has the legal power to turn down renewals.

Last year, the government did turn down a 10-year renewal for the 460-megawatt Garona plant, because that would have meant allowing it to run beyond a current legal limit of 40 years.

Garona was ordered to close in 2013, and Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero at the time recalled his Socialist party’s 2008 electoral pledge to “gradually replace” nuclear power with Spain’s booming renewable energy sources.

Nuclear power provides about 20 percent of Spain’s electricity, but it is unpopular and in 2008 elections neither major party said it would join in the European “nuclear renaissance” and build new plants.

RENEWALS EXPECTED

Tuesday’s renewals had been expected, however, by government and industry sources because the two 1,000-MW plants will not exceed the 40-year limit if they run for another 10 years.

“Almaraz I and II entered service in 1981 and 1983, so they will not complete 40 years of working life until 2021 and 2023,” the Ministry added.

The government proposed legislation last December that would allow seven of Spain’s plants to run past 40 years, or until at least the 2020s.

Analysts have pointed out that keeping most of the nuclear fleet is consistent with government plans unveiled earlier this year to comply with European Union renewable energy targets for 2020, in which it assumed all current plants -- except for Garona -- would still be around in 10 years’ time.

Greenpeace accused the government of reneging on electoral promises and said Spain often left wind farms idle while nuclear plants kept running.

“The capacity now exists to replace nuclear plants, which should be phased out to allow the use of more renewable energy, which is clean, cheaper and creates jobs,” Greenpeace spokesman Carlos Bravo said.

Spain is now the world’s fourth-biggest producer of wind power and the second-largest of solar after subsidising renewables to cut its carbon emissions and energy dependence.

Spain’s biggest utility Iberdrola (IBE.MC) owns 53 percent of Almaraz I and II, while Enel-owned Endesa (ELE.MC)(ENEI.MI) has 36 percent and Gas Natural (GAS.MC) the remaining 11 percent.

A 10-year permit for the 1,000-MW Vandellos II plant is due to expire on July 26, and is expected to be renewed.

For an analysis on Spanish nuclear power, click on [ID:nLDE63R2B7]

For a table on Spanish nuclear plants’ operating permits and lifespans, click on [ID:nLDE6571BL] (Reporting by Martin Roberts; Editing by Alison Birrane)

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