Spain’s oldest nuclear reactor, Santa María de Garoña, can continue to operate safely until 2019, the country’s nuclear regulator the Consejo de Seguridad Nuclear (CSN) told the government last week. The report follows a decision last month by Spain’s recently elected conservative government to overturn a decree that would have forced the plant to close by April 2013.

The CSN said, however, that plant owners Iberdrola and Endesa (via their joint venture Nuclenor) must still apply for an extension to operate Garoña, and it has given the plant operator until Sept. 2012 to file necessary documents.

The decision was hailed by Industry Minister Jose Manuel Soria, who said on Saturday that power from the 41-year-old plant was badly needed as Spain battles with an economic recession. "We need a good mix, a good combination" of power sources, Soria was quoted as saying at a conservative Popular Party meeting in Seville on Saturday by Agence France Presse.

In 2009, Spain’s government approved only a four-year extension for the 446-MW reactor when considering a license renewal. That decision followed a similar nonbinding recommendation by CSN to issue a 10-year operating permit extension for the plant, which was scheduled to be decommissioned in 2011—on the condition that it is modernized.

Last week, the CSN said the plant could make a number of improvements over the next four years, including those resulting from lessons learned after the Fukushima accident in Japan last year.

Sources: POWERnews, CSN, AFP