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Lemoniz NPP

   
   - darkometer rating:  6 -
 
An unfinished nuclear power plant (NPP) on the Atlantic (Bay of Biscay) coast of the Basque country in northern Spain. Not only was the local Basque population heavily opposed to the project, the site also was repeatedly the target of terror attacks by the infamous separatist organization ETA. The plant was eventually given up shortly before completion. Now it's an abandoned but very striking industrial ruin. 
More background info: The nuclear power plant at Lemoniz was planned during the heyday of such programmes in Europe, i.e. in the early 1970s, and at that stage Spain didn't want to be lagging behind either (today the country still operates seven NPPs). The plan for the Lemoniz plant was officially approved in 1972 and construction began shortly after. 
    
It was supposed to run two pressurized water reactors of ca. 900 MW capacity, to become operational in 1976 and 1978, respectively. However, it was not to be. 
  
A very strong anti-nukes movement formed in the Basque country with countless mass demonstrations, sit-ins at the site and other forms of protest. Some of these turned violent and there were even fatalities on the anti-nuke campaigners side. 
  
It was not least against the background of those popular protests that the separatist organization ETA also jumped on the bandwagon, as it were, and began targeting the Lemoniz construction site in a string of terror attacks, beginning with an assault on the site's security personnel in 1977. 
  
ETA then even managed to smuggle two bombs into the site (in 1978 and 1979), and their blasts caused structural damage to the reactor and turbine halls and killed a couple of workers. Several technicians working at the site were also sent direct death threats. 
  
In January 1981, ETA kidnapped the chief engineer of Lemoniz, Jose Maria Ryan, demanding the dismantling of the NPP or else they'd kill their hostage.  And after the one week ultimatum had passed they did just that. 
  
This kidnapping and subsequent assassination of the engineer, however, turned public opinion against ETA. Now there were even anti-ETA demonstrations in the Basque country. 
  
Nevertheless, after the murder of the head engineer Ryan, construction at the site was more or less halted altogether while the company in charge of it sought more definitive approval and support by the government. 
  
However, this was not forthcoming, and after a change of government (with a swing to the left) the project was officially declared dead for good in 1983. The site has been an abandoned industrial ruin ever since. 
  
  
What there is to see:  Not all that much. You can only view the site from the outside, especially from the hillside to the east of it. Here you can find some parking spaces and can walk up to the fence for a clear, almost aerial panorama of the site. There are by now enough holes in the fence to allow for an unobstructed view as well. 
  
You couldn't get down to the site itself from here, though, as the slope is far too steep (almost a sheer vertical drop). Nor can you access it from the bottom of the valley that it sits in. The inner fence around the site has barbed wire at the top, there's a clear no entry sign at the locked gate and there is CCTV in place. Presumably this is watched by guards who are on duty at the site. Anyway, I decided against trying to find out what a trespassing attempt would result in …
  
In theory you can also get a good view from the other, western side where the coastal road climbs back up to the cliff top level, but you can't stop so easily on that side. So better use the viewpoint to the east. 
  
What you get to see is a typical two-reactor block NPP, both reactor containment buildings being of the tubular design with a shallow dome on top (just like Harrisburg's Three Mile Island NPP). You can make out the beginning of vegetation growing in the accumulated dirt on the edges. 
  
The reactor blocks were supposed to have striking red stripes around the top rim and down their sides and you can see the remnants of such areas of red-painted concrete. Now it rather looks like an old but still bloody wound. 
    
The adjacent buildings both have sections of their roofs missing … and you have to wonder whether these were just unfinished or if it had anything to do with the ETA bombings – see background! In other places water has accumulated on the rooftops. Only what appears to be the administrative building in between the two reactors appears to be more or less intact, with typical 1970s brown-tinted windows. And you can vaguely make out some office furniture inside. 
  
The rest of the plant site is pretty bare, if somewhat overgrown – but not as much as you would expect after over three decades of abandonment. So it must be tended occasionally. Electricity pylons still stand around the site, but they mostly lack the cables they were intended to support … 
  
The wall along the seafront reminded me of Fukushima, Japan … even though you are far less likely to get tsunamis here at the Bay of Biscay, but still … 
  
  
Location: on the north coast of the Biskaya (Biscay) part of the Basque country in northern Spain, some 12 miles (20 km) north of Bilbao.  
  
Co-ordinates and Google maps locator:
43°25'59.5"N 2°52'21.0"W
 
    
Access and costs: no access to the site itself, which can only be viewed from the outside. 
  
Details: The old Lemoniz NPP site lies along the coastal route about halfway between Baiko and Plentzia. To get there you need your own means of transport. 
  
Coming from the west you should first drive past the site and continue back uphill to its eastern side, where you'll find a car park just where the road bends right away from the site again. Coming from the east, the road first takes you around a reservoir, and just after the street bends left look out for the car park on your right before the next left bend. From here you get by far the best views of the site. 
  
The actual access road to the abandoned plant is locked and guarded (CCTV) so better not attract attention to yourself by driving up here ...    
  
  
Time required: Only a short moment to take a good look (and a couple of pictures).
  
  
Combinations with other dark destinations: Nothing in the immediate vicinity. The closest other site of dark interest is Gernika, some 13 miles (21 km) to the south-east as the crow flies, but more like 50 km by winding road (the drive takes about one hour).   
  
  
Combinations with non-dark destinations: The industrial ruin of the Lemoniz NPP stands out so much at this location also because the surrounding coastal scenery is so beautiful. There are steep cliffs, pretty little fishing villages and towns, green valleys and, of course, the deep blue of the sea. Coming across the crumbling grey shell of the abandoned NPP is thus really a shocking contrast that couldn't be starker. But drive on just a hundred yards east or west and there's no indication any such site could possibly be around in such a serene, picture-book coastal setting.
  
Other than the landscape and coast, the biggest draw in terms of tourism in the Bizkaya (Biscay) region of the Basque country is probably Bilbao, only 12 miles (20 km) to the south as the crow flies. The single biggest attraction within Bilbao has to be the fantastically hyper-modern Guggenheim art museum. 
  
The port of Bilbao is also home to a gem of late 19th century engineering, namely in the form of the transporter bridge near the mouth of the Nervion River just before it yields to the modern part of the port of Bilbao. The bridge is called Vizcaya Bridge or Puente Bizkaia, but is also locally known as Puente Colgante ('hanging bridge'), even though for a transporter bridge that is actually an incorrect designation, because it is not the bridge that is suspended, but it's the gondola shuttling cars across that is hanging from steel cables from the top of the bridge, 45m above the water. With its span of 160m (525 feet) it is one of the largest surviving structures of its kind, and is also the oldest of its size in the world. 
  
The bridge is still in use and has been designated a World Heritage Site since 2006. As such it is quite touristified: you can take tours, self-guided with an audio-guide, and climb to the top to cross high above the water level. Events are also held here. But the main purpose remains taking cars and passengers across the river.  
 
See also under Spain in general (and especially No. 13 in the photo gallery!)     
  
  
 
  • Lemoniz 1 - disused NPPLemoniz 1 - disused NPP
  • Lemoniz 2 - water on the roofLemoniz 2 - water on the roof
  • Lemoniz 3 - damageLemoniz 3 - damage
  • Lemoniz 4 - possibly from ETA bombingLemoniz 4 - possibly from ETA bombing
  • Lemoniz 5 - unconnected reactor blockLemoniz 5 - unconnected reactor block
  • Lemoniz 6 - no live cablesLemoniz 6 - no live cables
  • Lemoniz 7 - little security left at the topLemoniz 7 - little security left at the top
  • Lemoniz 8 - but a locked gate at the bottomLemoniz 8 - but a locked gate at the bottom
  • Lemoniz 9a - view of the closed site from the valley floorLemoniz 9a - view of the closed site from the valley floor
  • Lemoniz 9b - wide view from the topLemoniz 9b - wide view from the top
 
  
  
 

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