Ally of Mexico's Fox favors nuclear shutdown

By Adolfo Garza

MONTERREY, Mexico, July 5 (Reuters) - A key ally of Mexican President-elect Vicente Fox said on Wednesday he supported the shutdown of the nation's only nuclear power plant -- which has been compared by experts to Ukraine's Chernobyl.

The Laguna Verde plant is ``one of the greatest absurdities'' of past governments, said Jorge Gonzalez Torres, president of the Green Party that formed an alliance with the conservative National Action Party (PAN) to nominate Fox.

Laguna Verde is on Mexico's Gulf coast -- some 450 miles (725 km) south of Texas -- and experts say that in the event of a disaster, the fallout would reach the southern shores of the United States within hours.

Outgoing President Ernesto Zedillo's administration has said it would allow a thorough inspection of the plant, expressing confidence it would pass independent tests.

In a telephone interview, Gonzalez Torres told Reuters, ``It is already a junk plant, just a few years after it was inaugurated, and it is destined to be closed as soon as possible if we don't want to run the growing risk of a big nuclear explosion, or nuclear damage in the area.''

Fox and his PAN-Green Party alliance will take power on Dec. 1 following their win in Sunday's national election.

Gonzalez Torres said he would also strongly oppose the construction of any other nuclear plants.

Last month, Greenpeace released a report by British consulting engineers Large and Associates that said Laguna Verde was ``on the verge of institutional failure,'' a complete collapse of the reactor's systems.

The study was based on a World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) inspection, which compared the plant to Ukraine's Chernobyl, the site of the world's worst nuclear accident in 1986.

Laguna Verde is just 175 miles (275 km) east of Mexico City, the world's second-largest urban area, with a population of 17.8 million.

WANO is an international organisation set up after Chernobyl to monitor nuclear safety in member nations.

It visited the plant at the request of the Mexican government in 1999. A spokesman for the government's Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) said on Wednesday no date has been set for a new inspection.

Laguna Verde, in the Gulf state of Veracruz, began operations in 1989 and generated 3.67 percent of Mexico's electric power during the third quarter of 1999, the latest period for which data was available.

17:39 07-05-00