History of Nuclear Energy in Spain

Vasundhara Singh
February 27, 2019

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: Zorita Nuclear Power Plant in Spain. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The history of nuclear power in Spain started in 1951, when the Nuclear Energy Board was founded. This committee was in charge of researching and developing a practical use of nuclear energy, as Francisco Franco, who was the military dictator of Spain at the time, wanted to find both military and economic uses of this new kind of enegy. [1]

Nuclear Plants

Over the next several years, research was done and laws were made to govern the use of nuclear energy, and in 1965, construction on the first nuclear power plant in Spain began. A few years later, in 1968, Zorita opened and made history as the first nuclear power plant in Spain. More nuclear reactors would follow in Zoritas footsteps, with Garoa and Vandells-1 opening in 1971 and 1972 respectively. Also during the 1970s, a few different National Energy Plans were created by the Spanish Government to predict and dictate the use of nuclear energy for the next 10 years. Initially, nuclear energy was expected to play a large role in providing Spanish electricity, with a goal of having 24,000 megawatts of nuclear capacity by 1985, and even more in the 1990s. However, this number dropped to around 12,500 megawatts in the next Nuclear Energy plan that was published. With the instant success of producing electricity through the initial three nuclear power plants came for the desire to build more, and so five more were added during the 1980s. [2]

Slowdown of Nuclear Energy

However, due to the growing opposition to Francisco Francos regime and his decline in power, nuclear energy became less important to the Spanish people, and only two more plants were added since then. There has been one nuclear accident in Spain, when on October 19, 1989, a fire caused by a hydrogen explosion at the Vandells-1 plant caused problems with the cooling systems and turbines. Because of this accident, this plant was shut down and not allowed to re-open. There has also not been any uranium mining in Spain since 2000, when ENUSA, the only uranium mining company in Spain announced its plans to close down due to the high cost of production. [1]


Currently, Spain has eight active nuclear plants (see Fig. 1). Zorita closed operations in 2006, while Vandells was forcibly shut down after the accident. Nuclear energy has been on a steady decline since the 1990s, and the Spanish government has expressed interest in closing down more plants in the future once wind and solar energy become more reliable alternatives. [1]

© Vasundhara Singh. 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. De la Torre and M. d. Mar Rubio-Varas, "Learning by Doing: The First Spanish Nuclear Plant" Bus. Hist. Rev. 92, 29 (2018).

[2] J. Torre and M. d. Mar Rubio-Varas, eds.. The Economic History of Nuclear Energy in Spain (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).