Located barely 10 miles from the densely populated Basque city of Bilbao, Lemoniz is no ordinary nuclear plant facing the usual no-nuke opposition of nonviolent, peace-loving ecologists.
Early May 5 Basque terrorists belonging to the guerrilla organization Euzkadi ta Azkatasuna or ETA (Basque homeland and freedom) murdered the plant's general project director, Angel Pascual Mugica.
Only 15 months ago, ETA kidnapped and murdered the plant's chief nuclear engineer, Jose Maria Ryan. At that time, the guerrillas demanded that the $1.5 billion nuclear plant be immediately dismantled. All work stopped on Lemoniz, which was practically finished.
Under guerrilla threats employees abandoned their jobs until last week, when Lemoniz was due to pass over to Basque public control. Angel Pascual was gunned down precisely on the day that the Basque Public Managing Society was officially constituted.
This is interpreted as an unprecedented declaration of war against the regional Basque government dominated by the conservative Basque Nationalist Party.
Both the central government in Madrid and the regional Basque government have reaffirmed their determination to continue with Lemoniz, although employees have not yet decided whether to continue at their jobs.
With construction halted for more than a year on the Westinghouse 930 -megawatt unit, Iberduero, the private utility that owns Lemoniz, claimed to have lost over $400 million last year in addition to the $2 billion that the company has already sunk into the twin unit project.
ETA has made nearly 100 bomb attacks on power transformers and installations belonging to Iberduero, causing numerous blackouts and $30 million in repair costs alone.
Iberduero, Spain's largest private utility, had not rejected the possibility of nationalization to get the troubled plant off its hands and at least recover losses. After the central government flatly rejected the Basque government's proposition of a popular referendum, five weeks of difficult negotiations between Iberduero, the regional Basque government, and the central government of Madrid, ended with an acceptable alternative that was signed March 22.
The Basque government was given managing control of the plant without transferring ownership. But Basque public administration of Lemoniz clearly hasn't guaranteed immunity to terrorist attacks.