To say that nuclear plants take 15 years to operate is an exaggeration

During his appearance in the Senate to present the Energy Saving Plan, Pedro Sánchez assured that nuclear power plants take 15 to 20 years to be operational. But it is an exaggeration. It only occurs in specific cases and according to data from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) the average time to build a nuclear is 7.3 years.

The September 6 a ‘face to face’ was held in the Senate between the President of the Government Pedro Sánchez and the leader of the PP Alberto Núñez Feijóo. In one of Sánchez’s interventions on the energy proposals, he assured that “even if we wanted to build a nuclear power plant, it would be operational within 15 or 20 years” (p. 26) to justify that “it is a fallacy to propose a nuclear solution to a problem that Spain is suffering today”. The data has been exaggerated, it is exceptional that nuclear power plants take so long to be operational since construction begins.

The World Nuclear Association (WNA) publishes in its 2022 performance report a chart with data from the IAEA (United Nations agency) showing the median construction time in 2021 for nuclear reactors that are already connected to the grid (page 13). The total is 88 months between the start of its construction and connection to the grid, which corresponds to a median of 7 years and 4 months. (7.3 years). The Spanish Nuclear Society He puts us in contact with Pau Aragón, researcher in nuclear technology and member of the board of directors of Jovenes Nucleares, who refers us to these same data and reaffirms that the 2020 results show that “the average time is 7 years stuck, 84 months ” and that “depending on the year it varies, but in no case we approach 15 or 20 years that are mentioned in the latest statements by Sánchez.”

Graph from the World Nuclear Association with data on the median construction time of the reactors that are already connected to the network in 2021. Source: World Nuclear Association / IAEA PRIS VerifyRTVE

According to one World Nuclear Association tablein the rest of the world, among the nuclear reactors that begin to be operational this year, are the Chinese fu qing 6 Y hong yan he 6, which have taken 6 and 8 years respectively to build. The karachi 3 from Pakistan, 6 years old. In South Korea the Shin Hanul 1 10 years and, finally, the only one that falls within the range of 15 to 20 years, the Finn Olkiluoto 3 with 17 years.

WNA table showing new operational reactors for 2020. Source: World Nuclear Association. VerifyRTVE

Pau Aragón highlights that there is a unique situation “in the nuclear reactors that are being built right now in Europe” that are taking longer than usual. He states that, together with the one in Finland, the reactors in France and the United Kingdom: “are exceptional cases, partly due to the fact that it is a larger reactor model and one that had never been built before. So you don’t have that previous experience.”

The researcher stresses that those of this new type “there are 3 reactors out of 53 that are currently under construction. And the others don’t have that kind of problem with build time.”. For him, “it is not representative and in no case can a historical trend be justified with these 3 reactors since at least the year 81”. We have also spoken with Luis Felipe Durán Vinuesa, a doctoral student in nuclear engineering at the Polytechnic University of Madrid, who confirms that the average offered by the WNA “is a totally valid measure”. He acknowledges that “there are one or two cases that have taken longer for some technical issue, especially, but most reactors take what the median says.”

Nuclear power plants in Spain

From the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge who has been at the center of the debates on energy saving in recent months, have not wanted to specifically comment on President Sánchez’s words and have referred us to the Nuclear Safety Council as an authorized technical source. turn on the Nuclear Safety Council they have pointed us to the report on their website which contains the dates of construction authorization and start of activity for all the Spanish power plants.

The reactors of Almaraz It took about 8 to 10 years. those of DisgustBoth were 11 years old. nuclear power plant Chests it took 10 years. In threshing Y Vandellos 9 years. Luis Felipe Durán explains that “the important thing is to put [los datos] because in Spain in the 1970s” there was no “custom of building reactors”. For example, the first Spanish nuclear power plant, the José Cabrera (which is being dismantled), dates back to 1968. Although he acknowledges that there are delays in the construction of some nuclear power plants, he stresses that it is “due to very specific circumstances” because “it has been something or design modifications have to be made that take a long time”. This is because, according to the expert, “everything in the nuclear world has to be licensed, everything has to meet nuclear safety requirements.” Durán closes by returning to the WNA figure saying that “it is not bad at all” and that he believes that “neither is it a number that Spain cannot aspire to”.


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