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Spotlight

Laguna Verde

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 15:55

The sole nuclear facility in Mexico is the Laguna Verde Nuclear Power Plant, owned by CFE, with an installed capacity of 1,610MW. Located in the municipality of Alto Lucero de Gutierrez in Veracruz, the facility has two GE boiling water generators of 805MW and is closely supervised by the Mexican nuclear energy regulator, CNSNS. Laguna Verde’s reactors use 3-4% enriched uranium-235.

The operational permits for Laguna Verde were handed down by SENER, with the construction process of Unit I beginning in 1976 and finished on target to start operations in 1990. Unit II started its construction phase in 1977 and began production in 1995. In February 2007, CFE announced that it was planning to expand the capacity of the Laguna Verde Nuclear Power Plant by 20%, with Iberdrola winning the international tender; a US$605.4 million contract that was completed in late 2010.

Ever since Unit 1 entered into operation, social protests from a civil group called “Madres Veracruzanas” have been ongoing. The group argues that the power plant has a negative impact on the environment and lacks the right security measures. CFE has strongly refuted such claims, stating that Laguna Verde does not represent any danger for the environment or the surrounding population. Laguna Verde has passed repeated inspections and operates under the guidelines of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO). In 2009, WANO rewarded Laguna Verde with the Nuclear Excellence Recognition prize, stating that the plant had contributed to the promotion of safe operations for all nuclear power stations. Since then, the Mexican nuclear power plant has won numerous national and international awards for its management, operation and organizational structure.

As a safety mechanism, Laguna Verde has installed a system where the steam that goes through its turbines is condensed by refrigeration with seawater before being sent back to the reactor to be reused. In order to control the nuclear fission reaction, control bars are used depending on the amount of energy that is used and that is needed. These bars contain boron carbon, which absorb neutrons and stops the chain reaction created by the radioactive fuel. As a second barrier, the reactors use a system that can inject sodium pentaborate into the reactor in order to stop the fission reactions when needed. This secondary system is used as an alternative security method should the control bars ever fail.

Despite the international acknowledgements of its safety system and record from various organizations, Laguna Verde faced further controversy after the Fukushima incident, but the federal government assured the population that the nuclear reactors installed on Mexican soil are safe. SENER sees Laguna Verde as an example of the contribution that nuclear power can make to the Mexican energy sector, although the potential for nuclear participation in the energy mix to be expanded might be offset by low prices of natural gas, according to the World Nuclear Association.