Everything you need to know about nuclear activity in Mexico

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Laguna_Verde_Nuclear_Power_Station

Mexico is known for its nuclear activity. Nuclear and power plant installations are well known in Mexico. The number of these installations is growing every year. With all those activities in this sector, a lot of information is needed.


In the following article, let’s discover all the necessary information about nuclear power plants in Mexico and their historical facts.

History of nuclear activity in Mexico

The first interest in nuclear activity was made in 1956 with the establishment of the National Commission for Nuclear Energy (CNEN). This organization held responsibility for all nuclear activities except the use of radioisotopes and the generation of electric power. The role of any future generator was assigned to the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE). By 2024, 35% of electricity must come from clean sources, including nuclear power, according to the 2015 Energy Transition Law.

Under the direction of CNEN and CFE, preliminary studies to find possible locations for nuclear power plants commenced in 1966. In 1969, CFE called for proposals for tested power plant designs with a capacity of around 600 MWe. Construction on two 654 MWe General Electric boiling-water reactors (BWRs) at Laguna Verde started in 1976 after the decision to build in 1972.

In the following years, the CNEN was transformed into the National Institute on Nuclear Energy (INEN). In 1979, it was split into the National Institute of Nuclear Research (ININ), Mexican Uranium (Uramex), and the National Commission on Nuclear Safety and Safeguards (CNSNS).

To install new turbines and generators at the Laguna Verde facility at $605 million, the CFE signed contracts in February 2007 with Alstom and Iberdrola Engineering of Spain. The primary changes included replacing the electric generator, main steam reheater, and feedwater heater, in addition to retrofitting the turbine and condenser. From 2008 to 2011, the reactors were upgraded. Iberdrola declared in February 2011 that both units were running at a gross operating capacity of 820 MWe. Additionally, their operational lifespan was increased to 40 years.

 

Extension of lifetime operation on power plants

A few years ago, in July 2020, it was announced that Laguna Verde 1 had a 30-year extension to its operating license. This way, it will continue to operate until July 2050. The Federal Electricity Commission (Comisión Federal de Electricidad, CFE) made several upgrades before approving it. For unit 2, a request for a comparable extension was submitted.

What is its fuel cycle?

The responsibility for uranium prospecting now lies with the Ministry of Energy, which it delegates to the Mineral Resources Board. It is assumed that Mexico has resources of about 2500 metric tons of uranium, but it has not been mined to date. At the close of the 1960s, a uranium milling facility was operational at Villa Aldana in the Chihuahua region; however, it is currently defunct. At Pena Blanca, tailings were disposed of. Nuclear fuel is owned by the state and controlled by the CNSNS, according to Mexican law.

What is going on with radioactive waste management?

The government of Mexico has the responsibility of storing and disposing of nuclear fuels and radioactive waste. In fact, in 2018, Mexico joined the IAEA Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management.

At this location, spent nuclear fuel from the Laguna Verde reactors is kept submerged. The storage pools have been re-racked to increase capacity, and Holtec finished building the independent spent fuel storage installation (ISFSI) in 2016. The ISFSI utilized Holtec HiStorm FW canisters on a platform big enough to hold 130 of them. Since 1972, Maquixco has served as a location for the collection, processing, and storage of LLW.

What about regulation and safety?

The 1984 Act on Nuclear Activities states the government is responsible for establishing the framework for the use and development of nuclear energy and technology. CNSS is responsible for:

  • Ensuring proper application of regulations and safeguards for nuclear and radiation safety
  • Physical protection of nuclear installations
  • Revising and approving the criteria for the design and construction of the installations, like having the separators installed properly
  • Suspending the licenses of nuclear facilities

We can see that nuclear activity has a long history in Mexico. Proper installations and maintenance can ensure compliance with strict environmental regulations, personnel safety, and maximum performance.

Mexico Daily Post