“El Cabril is the example of how an industrial site can perfectly coexist with nature"
Eva Noguero studied Chemical Science at the University of Córdoba, Spain. In 1991 she started to work as a lab technician in Enresa, the public company that manages the radioactive waste generated in Spain. Since 2010 she leads El Cabril, the radioactive waste disposal facility.
The El Cabril disposal facility is located in Hornachuelos, in the province of Córdoba. It is designed to permanently store the very low, low and intermediate-level waste produced in Spain. This facility, managed by the National Radioactive Waste Company (Enresa), is considered by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) one of the world's best radioactive waste disposal facilities, and a reference for similar centers in other countries. In this interview, El Cabril director Eva Noguero indicates that this facility is an essential public service, with high safety levels supported by over three decades of experience.
In October of this year, El Cabril celebrated its 30th anniversary. What would you highlight about its technological advances all these years?
Indeed, it has been 30 years since the facilities at El Cabril started their operation in October 1992. In these three decades, El Cabril has been adapting its technology, automating its processes and adapting to the changing times, always using a barrier system between the waste and the environment with proven efficacy.
“In these three decades, El Cabril has used a barrier system between the waste and the environment that has proven its efficacy"
As to its management, it was also able to adapt to society's requirements. The first specific structure for very low-level radioactive waste started its operation in 2008. This made it possible to manage these materials more efficiently.
The El Cabril disposal facility is a reference for other countries. Why?
To develop the design of El Cabril, Enresa studied waste disposal facilities in other countries and chose a disposal model that offered very deep confinement for waste. This decision, along with its perfect coexistence with a very valuable natural environment and the safety measures in place to protect workers, make our site a point of interest for all countries that wish to set up a similar solution.
In a recent interview, you indicated that "El Cabril is in permanent evolution, adapting to the existing needs." What are these needs?
At Enresa, we consider El Cabril an essential public service. We manage very low, low and intermediate-level radioactive waste generated in Spain, not just in power plants but also in industries, research centers and hospitals.
"At Enresa, we consider El Cabril an essential public service"
In compliance with the sixth General Plan for Radioactive Waste (PGRR) currently in force, El Cabril still responds to management needs for these materials in Spain. In order to maintain the necessary capacity for low and intermediate-level waste, Enresa requested the Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge the authorization to modify the design for the construction of a new platform that will make it possible to continue to meet the needs of the Spanish population.
At what stage is this process?
The request presented is currently at the evaluation stage. We hope to have the authorization that allows us to undertake construction around 2024 and to initiate waste storage in 2028, as established by the sixth PGRR.
What type of waste arrives at this facility, and where does it mostly come from?
El Cabril receives very low, low and intermediate-level waste produced in Spain. The highest volume comes from nuclear power plants, but there are over 1,200 radioactive sites all over Spain that also generate this type of waste in the industrial, hospital and research areas.
"El Cabril stores very low, low and intermediate-level waste from 1,200 radioactive sites in Spain"
Could you give us a brief explanation of how this type of waste is treated and prepared until it arrives at El Cabril?
Most of the low and intermediate-level waste received at El Cabril is already prepared. Once it arrives, it is introduced into concrete containers and immobilized with mortar. The containers are deposited into the storage cells. When the cells are completed, they are sealed off by a concrete slab built on site.
Very low waste, which mostly comes from dismantling nuclear power plants, is stored in different types of packaging and directly deposited into cells explicitly built for this type of waste.
How are the facility and its storage waste managed and monitored?
Every step of the process is controlled and monitored. The site has a radiation surveillance system that continuously feeds information on the radiation and pollution levels in the areas where waste can be located. The storage platforms have a network of pipes that make it possible to collect and control any infiltrations or leachate. The temporary waste facilities are regularly inspected, and more.
Furthermore, the radiological surveillance program in place, which involves an annual collection of over 1,000 air, food, sediment and vegetation samples, shows that the radiological conditions in the environment have not been modified by the operation of the facility.
"The radiological surveillance program shows that the radiological conditions in the environment have not been modified by the operation of El Cabril"
What is the perception of visitors at the site?
Every year, over 3,000 people visit the site to see for themselves how we provide this public service. Opening the doors of El Cabril is our best representation.
We recently opened a new information center to enhance this necessary visit, where visitors can acquire detailed knowledge of the solution that all Spanish people have for managing these materials.
What about the population in the surroundings?
We have a close-knit relationship with the surroundings. As well as opening our doors, as I previously mentioned, Enresa's implication goes far beyond that. The towns in the area receive stipulated allocations by ministerial order, which gives them resources for their development. We also cooperate in co-financing projects that generate new economic activity.
What would you say to those who assure that there are no solutions and that managing radioactive waste is not safe?
I invite them to come and get to know the site. Enresa takes care of managing these materials, and after over three decades of experience, we can feel very safe and secure.
Regarding the very low, low and intermediate-level waste that arrives at El Cabril, what relevant aspects are included in the Seventh General Radioactive Waste Plan wich is currently in process?
In this respect, the Plan continues with the provisions listed in the sixth Plan. We are working on having additional capacity for low and intermediate-level waste in 2028, as planned.
What about high-level waste or spent fuel in nuclear power plants? You said these will not be stored in El Cabril.
No. El Cabril is designed to store very low, low and intermediate-level waste. Because of the way it is designed, it cannot store any other type of radioactive waste and is not authorized to do so.
“El Cabril is only designed to store very low, low and intermediate-level waste"
What is your vision of the nuclear future in Spain and in the world?
Enresa will continue to manage radioactive waste and fulfill our plans. The future of the energy mix does not depend on us.
How do you feel working in a unique environment like the Albarrana Mountains?
It is a privilege to work in this wonderful natural environment. El Cabril is an example of how an industrial site can perfectly coexist with nature.
What woud you like to add?
I would like to take the opportunity to once again congratulate all the current and past workers that have made it possible to write the success story of El Cabril these past thirty years. Thank you so much.