Jesús López-Cotarelo Villaamil

Oviedo, november 29, 1933 — Majadahonda, february 11, 2015

Jesús López-Cotarelo Villamil

Jesús López-Cotarelo Villaamil borned in Oviedo (Asturias, Spain) on November 29, 1933 and was the third son of María Antonia Villaamil Cancio (1902-1969) and Antonio López Cotarelo (1896-1965). He always felt very strongly linked to Serantes, Castropol and Tapia de Casariego (Asturias, Spain) where his family was from since ancient times. And where he spent summers throughout his life at the Palacio de las Nogueiras, that he inherited from his mother and her maternal aunts Luisa and Teresa.

Throughout his life he passionately investigated family genealogy and the history of Serantes and the family. In 1981 he published an article entitled «The hospital of pilgrims of Serantes» in the bulletin of the Instituto de Estudios Asturianos.


Spanish Civil War

At the beginning of the war (July 1936), at only 2 years old, he was besieged in Oviedo with his mother and his sister Juana, who was 3 years old. He always felt very united with her sister. While his father, who was an army doctor, was under the command of the colonel Aranda with the troops defending the city from the siege of the communist and socialist mining and workers militias.

The city was heavily bombed by the republicans (communists, socialists, radical-socialists and anarchists). Often his mother had to pass long hours sheltering with him and his sister Juana in the basement of the Círculo Mercantil building, to protect against bombs. The power supply was cut. Due to the strong rationing of the water and its lack for personal hygiene there was an epidemic of typhus. As a consecuence of the republican offensives, the defensive lines were retreating, and the fighting moved within the city.

On October 17, 1936, the army of Galicia arrived, and achieved open a narrow and precarious corridor through the lines of the republican front, where civilians were evacuated from the city in cars and trucks. In this way he got escaped from Oviedo with his mother and sister.

Already liberated the city of Oviedo, they met in Castropol with his older brother Antonio, his aunts Luisa and Teresa, other people from his maternal family and his maternal grandmother Juana Cancio Menéndez de Luarca, in whose house —in the Palacio de las Cuatro Torres that was owned by Juana and her brothers— spent the rest of the war while his father was destined as a military doctor on the war fronts of Guadalajara and Teruel, and then in the Ebro and Catalonia.


Military naval officer vocation and university studies

Between 1944 and 1952 he studied in Oviedo the A levels at the Colegio Hispania, the only high school in the city not governed by religious apart from the public high school.

In 1952 he moved to Madrid to prepare for admission to the Spanish Navy academy. But finally he could not get it.

In 1955 he began studying industrial engineer technician at the School of Industrial Technicians of Madrid (currently the School of Industrial Design and Engineering of the Technical University of Madrid), graduating in 1958.


Internships in UK

During the summers of 1956 and 1957 he works in Manchester as a student internship at Metropolitan-Vickers (Metrovick), the largest english industrial company of the time. In the second of these years he has a first contact with the projects of the then nascent nuclear energy.


Escombreras thermal power plant

In 1958 he began working at Hidroeléctrica Española as an maintenance engineer in the fuel oil power plant of Escombreras, very close to Cartagena Naval Base (Murcia, Spain).


Fullbright scolarship and training in USA

In 1960 he obtained a Fullbright Scholarship from the U.S. Department of State to study nuclear engineering at the Kansas State University (KSU). He carried out the studies between 1961 and 1965, ending with a thesis entitled «Reactor power calibration by noise analysis».

On his way back to Spain, he is hired by Tecnatom, an engineering company responsible for the project and construction of the first spanish nuclear power plant in Almonacid de Zorita (Guadalajara, Spain) owned by Unión Eléctrica Madrileña (UEM). He is immediately sent back to the United States to gain additional experience, first at the Westinghouse Electric headquarters in Cranberry Township (Pennsylvania, USA), the main technological supplier of the project, and later at the Beaver Valley nuclear power plant (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) and at the San Onofre nuclear power plant (San Clemente, California). He travels by car from Pittsburgh (near the east coast) to San Clemente (on the west coast south of Los Angeles) as a way to know the US in its entirety.


Commissioning of the first spanish nuclear reactor: José Cabrera nuclear power plant

Once again in Spain in 1967, he was hired by UEM and was appointed engineer of the reactor of the José Cabrera nuclear power plant, in Almonacid de Zorita (Guadalajara, Spain). It was the first nuclear power plant that was built and became operational in Spain. He was responsible for the commissioning and operation of the nuclear reactor, which reached criticality on June 30, 1968, a historic date for the spanish industry, and the official inauguration was held on December 12 of the same year. He remains in Almonacid de Zorita until 1973.


Lemóniz nuclear power plant construction and terrorist attacks and murders

In 1973 he was hired by Sener, an engineering company in charge of the Lemóniz nuclear power plant project. And he moves to live in Bilbao (Biscay, Spain).

On August 10, 1978, he published a full-page article in the spanish newspaper ABC entitled «Nuclear energy without danger».

The construction of the Lemóniz nuclear power plant is an objective during the subsequent years of violent attacks by the terrorist group ETA, which installs a bomb at Sener's offices in Bilbao. The bomb explodes very close to his worktable.

In 1981 ETA kidnaps and assassinates the chief engineer of the construction of the plant José María Ryan. He is replaced by the engineer Ángel Pascual Múgica, who in 1982 is shot dead in his car when he took his son to school before heading to work.

ETA exploded two bombs in the works of the plant: one inside a steam generator, which killed two workers and wounded two others, and another in the turbine room, wich killed another one. The steam generator had to be replaced.

Between 1973 and 1983 ETA killed 432 people in terrorist attacks. Only in 1980, the band killed 93 people. The Comando Bizkaia, acting in Biscay, was one of the most bloodthirsty command of the group, and the construction workers of the Lemóniz nuclear power plant, in addition to the plant itself, were one of its main objectives. In total, the terrorist group killed two engineers and three workers from the plant and caused serious injuries to many more people, including a 10-years-old child.

Accepting the impossibility of guaranteeing the safety of the workers and the nuclear power plant, the work was halted when the first of the two reactors that it consisted of was performing its functional tests prior to its entry into operation. Subsequently, the owner, Iberduero, sold a large number of equipment from the plant as spare parts for other plants of the same generation, but the main buildings and structures of Lemóniz remain standing.



After suffering the terrorist threat, in 1983 he decided to leave Spain and was sent by Sener to Pakistan, where the company had obtained an important contract for the project of a Chashma nuclear power plant. He moves to live in Islamabad. The project is an object of interest for the secret services of several countries, who feared that it might have some relationship with the pakistani military program to develop nuclear weapons. He remained in Pakistan until 1987, where he lived many personal experiences as well as curious situations and anecdotes.

In 1987 he collaborates in the publication "The Book of Energy" edited by the Forum Atómico Español.


International Atomic Energy Agency

In 1988 he obtained the appointment of Nuclear Engineer of the Technical Co-operation Programs (TCPM) Division of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, where he moved to live.

In 1990 he was promoted to Chief of the Europe and Middle East Section of that Division. And he travels frequently to Arab countries, Iran and countries of the former Warsaw Pact in relation to civilian nuclear energy programs in those countries.

Return to Spain and retirement

In 1993 he retires from the IAEA and returns to Spain, where he works as an external consultant for Unión Fenosa Ingeniería (later Soluziona), where he directed a project for the modernization and personnel training of the Dukovany nuclear power plant (Czech Republic), which included a stay and workshop at the Trillo nuclear power plant (Guadalajara, Spain).

In 1994 he gave the conference «International Control of Atomic Energy» in the conference organized by the Forum Atómico Español.

In 1999 he retires permanently.

He died on February 11, 2015 in Majadahonda (Madrid, Spain), where he resided in his last years, because of a lung disease. His remains rest in the family niche of the Serantes cemetery. 


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