Confirmed a fine of 15 million to Endesa for releasing radioactive particles in a nuclear power plant | Economy

The Ascó nuclear power plant, in Tarragona, in a file image.
The Ascó nuclear power plant, in Tarragona, in a file image.albert garcia

The National High Court has confirmed four fines imposed on Endesa for a battery of “serious infractions” committed at the Ascó I nuclear power plant (Tarragona), as a result of a release of “radioactive particles” in 2007. According to a past sentence March 18, the Contentious-Administrative Chamber rejects the appeal filed by the company against the order of the Ministry of Industry, which punished the energy company to pay 15.3 million euros, which was then described as the highest penalty imposed on an installation of these characteristics. The then Government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (PSOE) accused the company of “hiding” information about the incident.

The 54-page court ruling comes after an intense, multi-pronged court battle. On the one hand, criminal proceedings were opened against several directors of the nuclear power plant, who were investigated for crimes of catastrophic risk linked to nuclear energy, crimes against the rights of workers and false documents. A case that the Provincial Court of Tarragona filed in March 2020. But that shelving meant the reactivation of the contentious-administrative process, which was paralyzed while waiting for the criminal case to be resolved.

Now, after studying the case and the multiple technical reports included in the process, the National High Court has ruled that Endesa must pay 15.3 million euros for breaching the Nuclear Safety Law. The leak occurred on November 26, 2007 during the dumping of radioactive water and sludge into a fuel pool, “without the operators who carried out this operation” noticing that part of the liquid entered through the “suction grids of the ventilation system”.

The magistrates thus confirm the content of the Ministry’s order, issued in 2009 and which provided for four serious infractions. The first of them, punished with the payment of 7.5 million, involved the “emission of radioactive particles with the potential to exceed the dose limits established by law.” In addition, once the incident was discovered, the company did not “establish the control of external contamination of the personnel”; and it did not “classify, signpost and radiologically delimit the free access zones of the nuclear power plant after the detection of radioactive particles in said zones”.

Two other infractions, punished with three million each, are imposed for not having notified the discovery of the particles until April 4, 2008 —five months after the event— and for “not having provided” the inspection with “prompt and truthful about pollution. The fourth fine, amounting to 1.8 million, was issued for failing to comply with the Radiological Protection Manual of the Power Plant, “by not having left a record in the surveillance records of the contamination found in free access areas.”

The energy company can appeal the ruling of the National High Court within 30 days, according to the ruling itself. According to the website of the current Ministry for the Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge, Endesa owns 100% of Ascó I. The company also owns 85% of Ascó II —which it shares with Iberdrola, which adds up to 15%. In 2017, the National Court already sentenced those responsible for Ascó to pay 1.1 million for acting with “negligence” in the management of disused radioactive sources: two inspectors from the Nuclear Safety Council discovered in 2011 that the plant lost or misplaced 233 radioactive waste.

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