Spanish nuclear trial ends in acquittal

Vandellòs I operator, official agency, held not responsible for country's worst nuclear accident

A Spanish provincial court yesterday acquitted the four people accused of responsibility for the country's worst-ever nuclear accident, the 1989 fire at the Vandellòs I nuclear power station, which led to the plant's subsequent closure (ENDS Daily 19 January). Charges against a fifth person had earlier been dropped by the prosecution.

In finding the men not guilty, the court decided that neither Hifrensa, the plant's operator, nor Spain's Nuclear Security Council (CSN) could be held responsible for the turbine failure that led to the accident because this was a "chance and unexpected event". The judges likewise rejected prosecution claims that non-implementation of safety modifications ordered by CSN inspectors had caused a small fire to turn into a "grade 3" incident on the international scale running 1-7. They also described as "unproven" allegations that radioactive gas had escaped from the plant while ruling that plant managers "had failed properly to inform the authorities" about the accident.

Foro Nuclear, which represents the nuclear energy industry in Spain, welcomed the verdict as "unimpeachable" proof that Vandellòs I "had demonstrated its safety in the way that the incident had been handled".

But Greenpeace Spain said the ruling was a "disappointment" because "it didn't assign responsibility for an accident that posed a serious risk to public health". A spokesperson said he believed that the nuclear industry's influence "had weighed heavily" in the court's decision. Another environmental group, Ecologists in Action, described the verdict as "an insult to intelligence".

The future of the Spanish nuclear energy industry has been the major environmental issue under debate during campaigning for this Sunday's general elections. The opposition socialists have pledged to close down all plants within 15 years if they win the election (ENDS Daily 25 October 1999).

Follow Up:
Foro Nuclear, tel: +34 91 553 6303; Greenpeace Spain, tel: +34 91 444 1400; Ecologists in Action, tel: tel +34 91 531 2739.

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