President Vicente Fox's Administration Seeks Expansion in Nuclear, Wind Energy Sectors

Article excerpt

President Vicente Fox's administration is pushing to expand usage of nuclear and wind energy to supplement Mexico's electrical power needs, but some opposition has emerged because of environmental and safety concerns and the strong probability that any projects would have to include foreign investors.

Expansion of Laguna Verde nuclear-plant proposed

The proposal to boost usage of nuclear energy involves expanding and modernizing the controversial Laguna Verde plant in Veracruz state. The facility, which went into operation in 1989, was constructed against the wishes of residents of the nearby community of Alto Lucero. At that time, many critics questioned why the government would spend US$3.5 billion to construct a facility designed to last only a few decades and which would supply only about 3% of Mexico's electrical power needs.

In March 2005, reports surfaced that authorities had created a special fund to cover the cost of dismantling the plant in 2025 or 2030. At that time, authorities admitted that the facility had a limited life but did not acknowledge any plans to dismantle the site.

Some Fox administration officials, while not directly confirming or denying the reports, suggested the possibility that the life of the facility could be extended. Juan Eibenschutz, director of the federal nuclear-safety agency (Comision Nacional de Seguridad Nuclear y Salvaguardas, CONASENUSA), told reporters that the life of Laguna Verde could be extended another 30 years as long as the state-run electrical utility the Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE) took the necessary steps to modernize the facility.

In early 2006, Energy Secretary Fernando Canales Clariond confirmed the Fox administration's plans by announcing that the government had decided not to build any more reactors at Laguna Verde but instead would seek private investments of US$800 million to modernize the facility, including expanding its productive capacity by about 256 megawatts.

In mid-July, the Secretaria de Energia (SENER) announced the creation of a new committee that would study and recommend actions on expanding the Laguna Verde plant. The committee is just a formality, as the Fox administration has identified four international companies as bidders for a concession: General Electric (US), Siemens AG (Germany), Mitsubishi (Japan), and Alstom (France). The four companies were to submit initial proposals by early September, with the project targeted for completion by 2010.

The facility was constructed by GE Energy, a General Electric subsidiary, which may give the US company an advantage. Officials at Alstom Mexico said, however, that the French company expects to be very competitive because of its presence in the Mexican market through a manufacturing plant in Michoacan state. The plant produces components for nuclear-power plants, exporting the majority of its output to France, India, China, South Korea, Finland, Sweden, and other countries.

Environmental advocates oppose plan

Some environmental advocates have come out against the government's proposal to extend the life of the Laguna Verde plant because the project will not eliminate the risks inherent to the facility. "Rather than continuing to try and fix Laguna Verde, a real leader would commit to phasing it out, along with its risks of human error, radiation contamination, and terrorist attack," said Talli Nauman, founder and co-director of Journalism to Raise Environmental Awareness. "The money saved could be used to replace jobs at the plant with others in development of clean, sustainable energy production."

Greenpeace Mexico and other environmental advocates have frequently raised concerns about the safety of the plant, including concerns that no quality-control guidelines were used during its construction. Furthermore, several operational lapses have been reported since the facility was inaugurated almost 20 years ago (see SourceMex, 2000-01-12, 2000-06-28, and 2001-05-09. …