The Spanish Ministry of Environment was revamped as Ministry for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge in 2020, when Pedro Sánchez (PSOE – Spanish Workers Socialist Party) took over the government after the previous experience following the censure motion against the PP (June 2018 to January 2020). For many people, the name was seen as promising new policies, perhaps what he had not been able to prove in the previous short experience. For others it was too ambitious. A frivolous proposal. Or an appropriation of the demands of social movements. The truth is that after the initial surprise, the evidence points to a very opposite approach. Perhaps it goes unnoticed by the citizens. Perhaps the government is taking advantage of the citizen’s difficulty to follow so much information, imbued in this crisis of the coronavirus that affects us sanitarily and economically. The mask also covers eyes and ears, and entails demobilization. But so much nonsense does not go unnoticed.
The continuity of nuclear power plants
One of the most surprising decisions of MITECO and most contradictory to the ecological transition which commited itself to, is the continuation of nuclear plants. We must remember that the first plant in Spain to have its authorization renewed after the Fukushima disaster was Garoña. When the PP government asked its owner, Nuclenor (Iberdrola and Endesa) to undertake the necessary reforms, the latter decided not to do so and did not renew. Now, with the PSOE in the government, it has already renewed the authorizations of all the plants, waiting for what it will do now with Confrents. He did it last July, when in addition to coronavirus we were still with schools and business closed and not knowing what to do with our holidays. It renewed the nuclear power plants of Almaraz (Cáceres) until 2027, and its 2nd group until 2028, and Vandellós II until 2030 (this one is still pending another renewal since its useful life is stipulated until 2034).1
Iberdrola has already presented its macro solar parks, specifically the Francisco Pizarro solar park in Extremadura, allegedly the «largest in Europe» with 590 MW, as a replacement for the Almaraz plant. It follows that the energy from this plant would not be totally indispensable either, as it has already been replaced. This closure was also demanded in neighbouring Portugal.
Now Iberdrola’s Confrents plant (Valencia) is due for its authorization on March 20 – it is three years away from reaching its maximum stipulated service life. But in the meantime, it has been accumulating incidents for some years. Despite this, its owner has already requested the continuation of the plant’s activity until 2030 (six years beyond its maximum). The Nuclear Safety Council (CSN) has already taken a position and gave its approval for the plant to continue, and now the government will decide. The Minister for Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, has already stated that Enresa, the public company in charge of radioactive waste management, does not have the capacity to dismantle more than two plants at the same time (referring to Garoña), so it is clear that she is in favor of its continuity.
We understood that the dismantling of Garoña was carried out by the workers of the plant in order to be able to keep their jobs. The Zorita nuclear power plant started to be dismantled in 2010 and has now finished in February 2021. Therefore, two plants were decommissioned simultaneously, Zorita and Garoña. The long period employed in this activity is striking, and once again, especially since it is a public company, the cost that this entails for the public treasury. Once again, another of those multiple cost overruns associated with nuclear power and foisted on the public. The estimated cost of dismantling the Spanish nuclear plants is 23,000 million euros!!!!
But anyway, if the problem is labor capacity with the levels of unemployment, can’t they look for more workers for dismantling it? Or, can’t they shut it down and dismantle afterwards? The minister will excuse us but it does not seem to us reason enough, and it seems to us a desire to continue with this highly dangerous, polluting, and as we corroborate again highly expensive energy.
She stops the extension of Yesa to readmit it three minutes later.
Another of MITECO’s disappointments is due to the controversial project to increase the height of the Yesa dam. In October, the Minister for Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, stopped the works of Yesa’s heightening, only to allow them again… three minutes later.
The regrowth of Yesa has been widely questioned because of the danger it poses as its foundation rests on an unstable slope, which rests on a fault and is continuously suffering incidents such as the landslides of 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2013… As a result in 2015 the houses of the adjoining Lasaitasuna housing development were expropriated for suffering cracks.
In fact, since 2006 they have been trying to solve something that leads to the delay of the project and prevents its completion: the regrowth began in 2001!!!!2 This leads to the project becoming more expensive: in 2007 it had already increased by 23.7%!3 The Court of Auditors used this project as an example of public waste in 2018. It is estimated that the works have already reached 75% but as we say, they do not finish because of the problem of the slope.
With the regrowth the Yesa reservoir would triple its current capacity, from 446.86 hm³ to 1,525.4 The pressure that this increased capacity will exert on its wall, given its unstable situation, increases the risk considerably. For the neighboring populations Yesa is a latent threat.5 The nearest town is Sangüesa, 8.5 km away, with 5,000 inhabitants. They would have only 25 to 30 minutes to be warned and flee. And the towns of Cáseda (1,000), Gallipienzo (118), Carcastillo (2,500), Mélida (747), Santacara (886), etc., follow in the course of the Aragón river. But even in 25 hours it would flood half the city of Zaragoza (1M), as a result of the flooding of the Ebro river, of which the Aragón is a tributary.
The extension of the Yesa reservoir would also flood numerous examples of cultural and historical heritage, and also threatens numerous enclaves subject to natural protection.
Another aspect to be taken into account also from the environmental point of view, but also from the demographic point of view that MITECO claims to assume (Demographic Challenge), is the Aspurgi reservoir which the regrowth of Yesa includes. It is well known that due to global warming there is nowadays a reduction in rainfall that affects the filling volume of reservoirs (in the energy crisis in Venezuela in 2019 that was the problem with the Guri mega-dam, one of the main energy supplies in that country with 10,325 MW)6. In the case of Yesa, it is known that there will not be enough rainfall for the volume of water for which the expansion is being built.7 For this reason, the CHE (Confederación Hidrográfica del Ebro) intends to build another reservoir in a pre-Pyrenean valley, Zaraitzu (Salazar), to supply water to Yesa through a subway pipe.
This reservoir will have a tremendous environmental impact on one of the best preserved valleys in the province. But it will also have a great social impact because this valley, like many rural areas of Nafarroa, has suffered a large population exodus. This reservoir will accentuate this depopulation as it will lead to a loss of land and a worsening of the already very limited conditions. It will not contribute to the Demographic Challenge.
Transition to incineration
One of the major environmental and social conflicts experienced in recent years in the Basque Country, and specifically in Gipuzkoa, has been that of waste management by incineration, since 2002. But to this was added that of landfill management, since last year the conflict generated by the Zaldibar disaster was also added. Both have the PSOE as the main responsible, together with the PNV.
In the case of the incinerator, it was the PSE (Socialist Party of Euskadi (Basque Country)) that took over the environmental and works portfolio of the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa, responsible for the revamping of the Zubieta incinerator that the previous EH Bildu team had stopped. In the recent program on «Spain, on the way to becoming a huge landfill?» of La Sexta Columna (LaSexta), the Door to Door system was proposed as the ideal way to overcome the problems of landfills and incinerators. However, this is the system that the PSE and the PNV got rid of wherever they could and that in fact they have never promoted.
This proposal, that of incineration, is accompanied by another great display of euphemisms on the part of the institutions and the PSE that governs them, although perhaps it would be more appropriate to say gross manipulation and appropriation of concepts and proposals that arose with more positive objectives. The PSE and the person in charge of this project, José Ignacio Asensio, has redounded to associate incineration (hidden under another euphemism, «energy revaluation») to the fight against the climate emergency and with the circular economy.
At the level of climate emergency, it has used all means including the creation of a center for the matter… in the same premises of the incinerator!!!! Or to organize conferences such as Gipuzkoa for the Climate, or the 2019 International Conference on Climate Change «Change the Change» (sic) or the International Circular Economy Meetings. But incineration is not circular economy, because it is a process that ends with the production of slag and harmful gases and particles that are incorporated into the cycle, yes, but as pollutants. That’s the end of the line – it is not a circular cycle.
In February 2020, landfills and opposition were back in the news with the Zaldibar disaster. This one in particular has a strong connection with the local PSOE and the figure of Arriola, mayor of Eibar at the time that Verter Recycling was given permission to open the landfill. Its owner José Ignacio Barinaga is from Eibar and a friend of Arriola’s. His son was a PSE candidate in the 2007 elections. Arriola’s secretary when he was mayor of Eibar, Javier Sanchez, was a representative and shareholder of Verter Recycling.
On the other hand, although they try from the institutions to offload the responsibility on the company and its owner, the institutions are not exempt from blame. In November 2019, the Basque Government’s Department of Environment , Arriola’s one, already identified non-compliances in the landfill but without establishing what they were and without proceeding to sanction. The lack of action should be included among the reasons for the disaster.
The Director General of Environment of the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa, Mónica Pedreira Lanchas, was herself a director of a company created by a shareholder of Verter Recycling, and her brother, Iván Pedreira, was promoted to Director of Environmental Administration by Arriola. In addition to their possible link, all of them and the Vice Councilor for the Environment, Elena Moreno, have among their functions to oversee the controls and inspections of the landfills, which were clearly unsatisfactory. It is striking that none of these people have resigned or admitted responsibility for what happened. All of them belong to and have been appointed by the PSE (PSOE). A rather strange way to start the Ecological Transition.
High Speed Train
Another of the great environmental conflict is the Basque Y (because of its shape), now Basque H as the Navarre branch has been included. The Basque Y has also been under construction for some 23 years. As we said in another article, as far as construction is concerned, it would be better to call it the Low Speed Train.8 Cost overruns continue to hinder its progress, and the lack of budget and European policies that rule out the high speed train as a priority, have half-paralyzed it. But it still throes.
On March 1, one of the many rural and historic buildings that this project is erasing in its path was demolished: the Erbetegi tower-house in the San Sebastian neighborhood of Martutene.9 This house dates back to the 16th century. Its demolition corresponds to the entrance of the TAV to the capital of Gipuzkoa, where its main station will be located (in addition to the Ezkio-Itsaso station, the Irun station at the end of the route and another one in Astigarraga as a freight train project). So many stations seems very ambitious. The Donostia station was scheduled to start in April 2020, almost a year ago! We recall that without stations this project, as it shows now, despite its millionaire budget, is useless.
Thus, despite being ruled out by the European Union, both the Basque and Navarre Autonomous Governments continue to try to finance it from there. Both included the HST in the application for aid to Europe last March. It should be added that the request of the Basque Autonomous Government also includes funding for Iberdrola and Petronor, when both are private companies with a high environmental impact, and that the request of the Regional Government of Navarra also includes funds for the Navarra II Canal and for the implementation of the 5G, both of which are also highly questioned from an environmental point of view. These requests for subsidies have been endorsed by the central government of the PSOE.
But let us also remember that it is none other than the regional government of the PSOE (PSN) and in the Basque government, the coalition of the PNV and PSOE, who are promoting the TAV in Navarre. The latter has also been in charge of the Department of Public Works and Transport of the Basque Autonomous Government from 2009 to 2020, led by Iñaki Arriola, who currently holds the position of Minister of Environment, Territorial Planning and Housing.
Support to the oligopoly
And it is shocking that both the state and regional governments, and the PSOE in particular, support so much the oligopoly, companies such as Iberdrola, Endesa and Repsol/Petronor. On the one hand, as we say, facilitating the continuation of power plants and investing and seeking European funds for them. But above all, from the departments of Environment to allow the constant gassing of the population surrounding the Petronor (Repsol) refinery in Muskiz (Meatzaldea) and consequently, to pollute the atmosphere and rivers, thus also adding to the climate emergency.
The departments of Environment should account to the surrounding community, the first affected but also the first level of the alarm system, since they are the ones who turn on the alarms. However, the air quality measurement systems are inadequate and insufficient, because especially the incidents of gas leaks, flares, smoke, etc. are replicated: March 1, February 2, 13 and 14, January 18, December 8, 20 and 22, 2020…. etc, etc.
For all these reasons, we conclude that as far as the Ministry of Ecological Transition is concerned, its name is pure euphemism, since its actions and forms are far from any ecological objective and it advocates maintaining the same disrespectful practices with the environment and people. This fact we understand as recklessness, because making people see something that is not, that is not happening. It confuses. At the same time, it normalizes among citizens the fact that something can be said that later will not be fulfilled. This is highly inadvisable for a healthy society. It is also irresponsible because, as you well know, it is time to act in the face of the emergency of the environmental, climate, health, etc. crisis(es), at certain irreversible levels. We demand therefore to the government, to stop using euphemisms and to be consistent with the initially marked approaches, and to act accordingly. people and the environment will be grateful.
3The works were awarded in 2000 for 113.5 million and in 2017 exceeded 253 million. www.heraldo.es/noticias/aragon/2018/06/14/el-tribunal-cuentas-cuestiona-sobrecoste-del-110-las-obras-yesa-1249238-300.html