The Vandellos Nuclear Power Plant Incident

Jared Gilbey
March 20, 2019

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: The Vandellos Nuclear Power Plant is one of the several nuclear power plants in Spain (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Vandellos I Nuclear Power Plant is located in Tarragona, Spain, specifically in the municipality of Vandellos i L'Hospitalet de L'Infant. [1] As Fig. 1 shows, it is one of many nuclear power plants located in Spain. In 1972, the plant began its commercial operation. It was owned and overseen by the Spanish-French company, Hispano-Francesa de Energia Nuclear, or HIFRENSA, and was a part of a group of first generation nuclear power plants in Spain. [2] The plant was expected to have a lifespan of 25 or 30 years. The plant had 480 MW of power, and differed from previous Spanish nuclear reactors in that it was cooled by gas rather than water, and nuclear reaction was moderated by graphite rather than water, as well.

Fire Incident

On October 19th, 1989, the plant suffered a nuclear accident. [2] Initially, it was reported the fire was initiated by a failure to the cooling system, but radioactive leaks were not included in the reports, which very likely would have been caused if that had been the case. [1] It was later understood that a mechanical failure led to a fire in an electric generator. [2] More specifically, one particular turbine suddenly stopped, which caused the heavy weight of the machine to heat up the lubrication oil. When this decomposed, it caused hydrogen to explode, making the turbine itself catch fire. The fire lasted for over four hours, but luckily did not cause any injuries. A union stated that firefighters risked death by going into the plant because they did not have adequate equipment or training, and had not been sufficiently warned of the risks. [3] The incident was classified as level 3 on the INES Scale. Though the fire had effects that affected the site, there were no environmental consequences that involved radioactive emissions.


The Nuclear Safety Council (CSN) insisted that, because of the incident, a number of costly improvements needed to be made. But, due to these high costs, activity involving the plant ceased. [4] On November 24th, 1989, the operating license of the plant was suspended, leading to the closure and dismantling of the plant after 17 years of operation. [4] Discharging the reactor and disposing of the spent fuel was completed in 1994, representing the first stage of dismantling. [5] The second stage was to actually demolish the buildings and plant systems. This was completed by early 1998. Afterwards, a latency, or dormancy, period of 25 years is needed so that the radioactivity can decay to safe levels. [5] The final stage will commence in 2028, when the remaining installations will be fully dismantled.

© Jared Gilbey. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] J. Burclová, "Decommissioning of NPP At - HWGCR Type," in Technologies for Gas Cooled Reactor Decommissioning, Fuel Storage and Waste Disposal, International Atomic Energy Agency, "IAEA-TECDOC-1043, September 1998.

[2] "Nuclear Reactor in Spain Catches Fire," New York Times, 26 Oct 89.

[3] M. Schneider, "An Account of Events in Nuclear Power Plants Since the Chernobyl Accident in 1986," Greens in the European Parliament, May 2007.

[4] D. Bechstein, "Nuclear Risk Pricing," Physics 240, Stanford University, Fall 2013.

[5] O. Urban, "The A1 Nuclear Power Plant in Jaslovske Bohunice, Slovakia," Physics 240, Stanford University, Fall 2015.