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Spotlight

Laguna Verde

Wed, 02/24/2016 - 19:01

Since its inception in 1976, Veracruz’s Laguna Verde Nuclear Power Plant has been plagued with controversy. The first unit was activated in 1989, the second in 1995, and the recent announcement of a further expansion has resulted in a backlash from the Xalapa arm of activist group Pobladores A.C., which claims that the plant uses considerable amounts of water, generating waste that has saturated the region. The announcement by Actopan Mayor Félix Manuel Domínguez Lagunes of the construction of a vertical dumping ground for this waste has not been received positively by the group.

The plant is administered by CFE and has an area of 270 hectares, with two active 805MW BRW-5 reactors built by GE that use Uranium 325 fortified to 3-4%. The plant employs 1,400 workers and, as the only nuclear power station in Mexico, produces about 4.5% of the country’s energy supply. CENACE oversees the planning, supervision, and transmission processes of the plant, classifying it as a base load power plant. The annual average energy generation has been 10.5TWh and steam flow rate from each reactor is 3,944 kt/h. Both reactors operate with 444 enriched uranium assemblies, storing the equivalent of 38.9 million oil barrels in power. Every 18 months, maintenance is carried out on the reactors during outages, which involve replacing 25-30% of the nuclear fuel. This is a process that converts kinetic energy to mechanical energy by funneling the steam through the turbine and subsequently cooling it in a condenser before pumping the water produced toward the reactor in order to restart the generation cycle.

In 2007, a deal to expand the plant by 20% was announced by CFE, and 97% of the US$605 million tender was awarded to Spanish-owned Iberdrola, while the remaining 3% went to Alstom Mexicana. The expansion was completed in 2013, and included the replacement of all the equipment, allowing the plant to reach a capacity of 1,640MW. This remodel was carried out with the intention of extending the life of the plant, and it required more than 2,000 workers and involved many local companies, helping to rejuvenate the economy of this coastal area of the Gulf of Mexico. Updates included the replacement of the main condenser, the steam heaters and separators, the turbo generator, the ventilation systems, and the heating and air conditioning systems, as well as the auxiliary power systems, transformers, isolated phase bus, and main interrupter.

Despite controversy, the plant has been awarded several accolades in recognition of its quality control and risk management practices. In 2009, the plant was given the Nuclear Excellence Recognition Award by the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), and regular inspections reinforce the value of the safety measures implemented by operators. The plant also adheres to guidelines set out by WANO and the International Atomic Energy Agency, and this year, was awarded the International Award for Quality by the Organization for Quality in Asia Pacific (APQO). The plant is certified to ISO 14001 and has several awards recognizing its green processes and energy efficiency. The plant currently supplies more than 4 million people with energy in Tecali, the state of Puebla, Poza Rica, and the city of Veracruz, and this year, capitalizing on growing demand, plans were announced to expand the plant to include two new reactors, with the aim of increasing supply to a national level.