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Nuclear Energy in Mexico

Nuclear energy in Mexico

Mexico is rich in hydrocarbon resources and is a net exporter of energy. The country's interest in nuclear energy is based on the need to reduce its dependence on these non-renewable energy sources. In recent years, energy in Mexico is increasingly dependent on natural gas.

Energy growth in Mexico was very rapid in the 1990s, but then stabilized for a few years. Since 2007, a new growth in the demand for electric power was expected, up to an average rate of almost 6% per year. 

In 2016, Mexico generated 20% of its electric power through clean sources, including renewable energy and nuclear energy. The main energy sources in Mexico are natural gas, coal, hydropower and nuclear energy. Mexico foresees a 7.5% power generation capacity in 2025 compared to capacity in 2012.

Nuclear Plants in Mexico

Mexico has a single nuclear plant with two nuclear reactors. The nuclear power plant that is currently operating in Mexico is the Laguna Verde nuclear power plant.

Laguna Verde is a nuclear power plant located in Alto Lucero, in the state of Veracruz, Mexico. It produces around 4.8% of Mexico's national energy needs. The two Laguna Verde nuclear reactors are boiling water reactors (BWR) of type BWR-5, which produce 654 MWe each.

The Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE), a national electricity company owned by the Mexican government, controls and manages the Mexican nuclear plant.

Development of the Mexican Nuclear Industry

Mexico's interest in nuclear energy became official in 1956 with the creation of the Comisión Nacional de Energía Nuclear (CNEN). That organization assumed overall responsibility for all nuclear activities in the country, except for the use of radioisotopes and the generation of electric power. The Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE), one of the two state-owned electricity companies, was assigned the role of nuclear generator in the future.

Preliminary investigations to identify possible sites for nuclear power plants were initiated in 1966 by CNEN and CFE and in 1969 by CFE. In 1972 the decision was made to build the first nuclear power plant for electric power generation, and in 1976 the construction of the Laguna Verde nuclear power plant was started with two boiling water nuclear reactors of 654 MWe (BWR) from the General Electric.

Although the Mexican industry has not provided important elements for the Laguna Verde plant, the Mexican companies carried out the civil works and the Mexican personnel to perform the maintenance of the reactor.

The CNEN was later transformed into the National Institute of Nuclear Energy (INEN), which in turn was divided in 1979 into the National Institute of Nuclear Research (ININ), Mexican Uranium (Uramex) and the National Commission of Nuclear Safety and Safeguards (CNSNS). The Ministry of Energy assumed the functions of Uramex in 1985.

In February 2007 the CFE signed contracts with the Engineering of Spain Iberdrola and Alstom to adapt to the new steam turbines and electric generators for the Laguna Verde nuclear plant for a value of 605 million US dollars. The main modifications consisted of a steam turbine and the adaptation condenser and the replacement of the electric generator, main steam reheaters and the feed water heater.

With the approval of the CNSNS, the nuclear reactors were progressively improved, by 138 megawatts each from 2008 to January 2011. In 2007, after the first step, the performance of both units was improved improving flow control. In February 2011, Iberdrola announced that both units were operating at 820 MWe gross, some 800 MWe net, an increase of 20% in energy production.

Forecast of Electricity Generation in Mexico

The Mexican government is strongly committed to the expansion of nuclear energy, not only to reduce dependence on natural gas, but also to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. In May 2010, the CFE had four scenarios for the creation of 4 new nuclear electric power generation plants between 2019 and 2028. These range from a strong dependence on coal-fired power plants to meet the growing electricity demand, to a scenario of low carbon emissions that requires large investments in nuclear energy and wind energy. Therefore, it is intended to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

Under the most aggressive scenario of the CFE, it is intended to build up to ten nuclear power plants. The objective is to build these plants so that nuclear energy supplies almost a quarter of Mexico's energy needs by 2028. This new energy source would not increase carbon emissions in Mexico since 2008, despite the demand projections higher.

A previous proposal was to build a new nuclear reactor to go into operation in 2015 with seven more nuclear reactors for the year. The cost studies showed that nuclear energy was more competitive than gas generated energy in all the scenarios considered. However, with the low prices of natural gas in 2010 the decision on the construction of a new nuclear power plant was delayed until 2012. In November 2010, the CFE referred to the construction of between six and eight 1,400 MWe nuclear units, the first two in Laguna Verde.

In the longer term, Mexico will be able to see small nuclear reactors, such as IRIS, used to provide power and desalinate seawater for agricultural use.

ININ previously presented ideas for the construction of a nuclear power plant that would consist of three IRIS reactors sharing a stream of seawater for cooling and desalination. This project consisted of seven units of desalination by reverse osmosis, which would allow to obtain 140,000 m 3  of drinking water, in addition to 840 megawatts of electricity.

Nuclear Fuel Cycle

Since its absorption of Uramex, the Ministry of Energy has been responsible for the prospecting of uranium, which it delegated to the Mineral Resources Board. Mexico has identified reserves of around 2,000 tons of uranium that have not been exploited to date.

A uranium mill operated on an experimental basis in Villa Aldana, in the Chihuahua region in the late 1960s, but has now been shut down. The nuclear waste from that plant is currently disposed of in Peña Blanca.

According to Mexican legislation, nuclear fuel is owned by the State and is under the control of the CNSNS.

The nuclear fuel used from the Laguna Verde nuclear reactors is stored under water in the same plant. The storage pools have been returned to their initial position to provide sufficient space for the rest of the reactor's life. In research nuclear reactors the same strategy is used with spent nuclear fuel.

Radioactive Waste Management in Mexico

The Government of Mexico, through the Ministry of Energy, is responsible for the storage and disposal of nuclear fuels and radioactive waste, regardless of their origin.

The Ministry of Energy is beginning to take administrative and budgetary measures to create a national company for the management of its radioactive waste. It also plans to sign the Joint Convention on Safety in the Management of Spent Fuel and on Safety in the management of radioactive waste.

In Piedrera, between 1985 and 1987, it operated a near-surface site for radioactive low-level nuclear waste. Currently, there is a nuclear waste storage and treatment center in Maquixco since 1972.

Regulation and Nuclear Safety

The CNSNS is also responsible for reviewing, evaluating and approving the criteria for the site, the construction design operation and the dismantling of nuclear facilities, proposing the pertinent regulations. This organization has the power to amend or suspend the licenses of the nuclear facilities, which are granted with the approval of the CNSNS through the Ministry of Energy.

The 1984 Law on Nuclear Activities established that the Mexican government, through the Secretariat of Energy, is responsible for establishing the framework for the use and development of nuclear energy and technology, in accordance with the national energy policy.

The National Commission for Nuclear Safety and Safeguards (CNSNS) is a semi-autonomous body under the authority of the Ministry of Energy, which assumes the role of regulator. The CNSNS is responsible for ensuring the correct application of the rules and guarantees of nuclear and radiological safety and physical protection of nuclear materials and radiological facilities to guarantee public safety.

Research and Development of Nuclear Energy in Mexico

The main nuclear research organization in Mexico is the National Nuclear Research Institute (NNRI). The NNRI has been operating with a 1,000 kW TRIGA III nuclear research reactor since November 1968.

In 1995, a nuclear cooperation agreement was signed between Mexico and Canada for the exchange of information on R & D, health, safety, emergency planning and environmental protection. It also provides for the transfer of nuclear material, equipment and technology and the provision of technical assistance.

Treaty of Nuclear Non-proliferation

The Mexican Constitution establishes that nuclear energy can only be used for peaceful purposes and this is reiterated in the Law of 1984 on nuclear activities.

Mexico ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1969 and the Additional Protocol in 2004. It is also part of the 1979 Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials, ratified in 1988. In addition, Mexico is the depository of the 1967 Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America (Treaty of Tlatelolco) and has been a party to the Treaty since 1967.


Published: August 8, 2011
Last review: June 18, 2019