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Spanish towns vie for nuclear dump prize

Mixed local reaction to controversial 'cemetery' bid

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The Catalonian town of Ascó yesterday voted to bid for a controversial €700m nuclear waste dump, joining Yebra in Castilla-La Mancha as the second candidate to date* for the lucrative honour of storing the spent output of Spain's nuclear power programme.

The town council, with widespread local support, voted seven to two in favour of pitching for the contract, which will create around 300 jobs for five years and considerably swell municipal coffers.

Spain is intent on centralising storage of its nuclear waste in the proposed Almacén Temporal Centralizado, or ATC, rather than holding it at its eight nuclear plants across the country, as is currently the case. These facilities have capacity to store material until 2013, prompting the UN's nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, to "urge" the Spanish government to construct a purpose-built site.

That many Ascó residents are in favour of the ATC is unsurprising - the town already has a nuclear plant and the facility "wouldn't increase the nuclear security risk at all", as one local put it to El País.

In Yebra, though, the proposal is a lot less palatable. The town lies around 15km from the decommissioned Zorita nuclear plant, something which supporters cited as precedent for building the ATC. Opponents, however, last week protested vociferously at the council meeting which approved the bid, bearing banners reading "No to the nuclear cemetery".

In the event, the vote was carried by five council members of the opposition Partido Popular, against the orders of the party's regional head.

Whether the ATC lands in Ascó or Yebra remains to be seen. The president of the Catalan regional government, Jose Montilla, said yesterday he was opposed to the Ascó bid, since Catalonia already has "three of Spain's eight nuclear power stations as well as many wind farms and hydroelectric plants", as Reuters explains.

He said: "Catalan power stations produce 40 per cent of all of Spain's power. We've done our bit."

Castilla-La Mancha's president, Jose Maria Barreda, was somewhat blunter regarding the Yebra proposal. He insisted: "I am willing to take every political, social and legal measure, whatever it takes, to stop the nuclear dump being built in Castilla-La Mancha."

Greenpeace, meanwhile, said the government had "failed to achieve widespread public support for the ATC", and declared in a statement: "If the government wants to solve the nuclear waste problem and close the nuclear debate once and for all, it will have to table a good plan for closing nuclear plants."

The Spanish government has already said it will not build any new nuclear power plants, but "is prepared to let most existing plants run until at least the 2020s", Reuters notes. ®

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* The deadline for bids is 31 January.

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