Nuclear energy

Vandellós I Nuclear Power Plant, Spain

Vandellós I Nuclear Power Plant, Spain

The Vandellós I nuclear power plant is a graphite-gas nuclear power plant that began operating in 1972. This Spanish nuclear power plant is located next to the Catalan town of l'Hospitalet de l'Infant.

It was part of the group of first-generation nuclear power plants in Spain, formed by the Zorita nuclear power plant, the Santa Mª de Garoña nuclear power plant and the Vandellós I nuclear power plant. It was owned by the Spanish-French company HIFRENSA (Hispano-Francesa nuclear power).

The nuclear power plant had 480 megawatts (MW) of power. Until now, Spanish nuclear power plants were cooled and moderated by water. The Vandellós plant, on the other hand, was cooled by gas and its nuclear reaction was moderated by graphite. This system would represent notable drawbacks in the treatment of waste and nuclear proliferation.

In the spent nuclear fuel there was plutonium that could be mined for military use. On the other hand, radioactive graphite could not be taken to El Cabril to be managed as a waste of medium and low activity. The reason is that it contained carbon 14 with a half-life that exceeds the maximum allowed in the El Cabril nuclear waste warehouse with more than 5,000 years. It is currently at the headquarters itself.

Next to the plant is the Vandellós II nuclear power plant, which is still active.

How Did the Vandellós I Nuclear Accident Occur?

On October 19, 1989, a nuclear accident occurred at the Vandellós I power plant.

That day a fire started in the electric generator due to a mechanical failure. Indirectly, this fire caused a flood of seawater in the area of ​​the nuclear reactor that caused the inoperability of some of the safety systems related to the cooling system.

The incident at the Vandellós I nuclear power plant was classified as level 3 ("important incident") on the INES Scale. There was no escape of radioactive products to the outside, nor was the reactor core damaged, and there was no contamination inside the site.

The damage to the security systems led to the degradation of the plant's defense-in-depth security.

Closure and Decommissioning of the Nuclear Power Plant

Due to the incident, the regulatory body, the Nuclear Safety Council (CSN) demanded a series of important improvements. The high cost of these improvements led Hifrensa to stop the plant's activity.

In January 1998, the former Ministry of Industry and Energy (MINER) authorized the execution of the decommissioning activities. In 1990 it was permanently closed.

Between February 1998 and February 1999, the site conditioning for dismantling in radiological zones was carried out and conventional equipment and structures were dismantled.

From 1999 to June 2003, conventional materials were separated from radioactive waste. Low and medium level waste was sent to the El Cabril storage center.

Phase 1 of Decommissioning

The previous phase or level I of dismantling was carried out by HIFRENSA. This phase included:

  • The discharge from the reactor.

  • The evacuation of fuel.

  • Conditioning of operating waste

  • The extraction and preconditioning of the waste deposited in the graphite silos.

The spent nuclear fuel was taken to France for reprocessing and deposited in the nuclear waste warehouse that the French state company AREVA has in La Hague (Normandy).

Phase 2 of Decommissioning

At level 2, the decommissioning of the plant consisted of dismantling and demolishing the plant's buildings and systems, except for the reactor box. The reactor drawer must remain confined to the next level.

Dismantling of the Vandellós I nuclear power plant building

Phase 3 of the Dismantling of the Vandellós I Nuclear Power Plant

From here you have to wait 25 years, with the aim that the radioactivity inside the drawer falls to levels that facilitate its total dismantling with the minimum radiological cost. It will be then when its location is finally released.

Level 3 will begin around 2027, when the 25-year latency period has elapsed. In this phase, the reactor box will be dismantled, completely freeing the site, which will once again be the property of HIFRENSA.

Reactor typeGCR
Grid connection1972-05-06
OwnerHispano-Francesa De Energia Nuclear, S.A.
OperatorHispano-Francesa De Energia Nuclear, S.A.
ZoneL'Hospitalet de L'Infant (Tarragona)

Published: January 6, 2013
Last review: November 23, 2018

Nuclear power plants in Spain