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News Article

Is Excess Radioactive Waste a Concern for Laguna Verde?

By Cas Biekmann | Wed, 06/30/2021 - 09:25

Based on the 2017-2023 Radioactive Waste and Nuclear Fuel Management Plan, El Pais has reported that CFE’s nuclear power plant Laguna Verde is nearing the saturation of its nuclear waste and used uranium deposits. Even though the plan discusses procedures to promote  a higher efficiency, no actions to reduce waste generation were included. In a response, Mexico’s government argues this information is “false”. Regardless, experts stress that the country would do well to enhance its waste management strategy, especially if capacity is expanded.

Laguna Verde, Mexico’s only nuclear power plant, boasts a capacity of 1,600M through two reactors. Nuclear expansion, either at Laguna Verde or elsewhere, remains within CFE’s possibilities, although recent comments from the state utility’s Director Manuel Bartlett suggest the plans may have been halted for the time being.

The famous power plant features four deposits for radioactive waste and a spent fuel pool. It generates radioactive waste in gaseous, liquid and solid form, which according to the law cannot leave the facility. According to El Pais, this is where the conundrum begins: Laguna Verde has received a permit to operate yet another 30 years, but two of its storage facilities will be decommissioned in the near future. For the most part, radioactive waste poses problems. Uranium remains highly dangerous, even for hundreds of thousands of years after it has been used in the plant. Using data from CFE of waste inventories, El Pais concluded that the power plant is reaching saturation, with a temporary site warehouse coming close to nearing capacity. A new deposit for used uranium bars have faced issues as well. The newspaper highlighted that nuclear waste generates problems in various countries.

CFE and SENER issued a joint statement through a press release, calling El Pais’ publication “false information” and “biased”.

The state utility stresses that the document on which the publication was based in no way recognizes that there are unsolvable problems, instead the plan is used to manage the current storage facilities and propose solutions exactly through the improvement of internal solutions. Techniques such as incineration and chemical decontamination can help alleviate the pressure as well. “With this, Laguna Verde can face the operation of both units for more than 30 years without reaching the saturation of its temporary warehouses on site, contrary to the false and biased arguments of the Spanish newspaper,” CFE said.

“We can reiterate that the Laguna Verde Nuclear Power Plant has operated, is operating and will always operate safely. The false statements that they have insistently made in other publications do not obey more than to defend the interests of Spanish companies that have illegally and arbitrarily seized power generation in the country to the detriment of the interests of all Mexicans,” the statement points toward private, mostly renewable power producers that entered the country after the 2014 Energy Reform, which President López Obrador seeks to overturn.

Even though no energy generation technology remains without waste, particular attention should be given to toxic nuclear waste, especially if new capacity is to be added. “Mexico is concerned about its radioactive waste because the country is not as prepared as Spain or the US to handle such waste.  In short, to make [new nuclear capacity] a success, nuclear energy needs to be firmly considered on the political agenda and an adequate local waste management strategy is crucial,” said Salvador Portillo, General Manager Mexico of Tecnatom, a Spanish company that uses its nuclear experience to help CFE manage Laguna Verde to Mexico Business News.

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
El Pais, CFE, MBN
Cas Biekmann Cas Biekmann Journalist and Industry Analyst