NEA Warns Nuclear Industry Of Significant Decommissioning Challenges

By David Dalton
9 March 2016

9 Mar (NucNet): The nuclear energy industry’s performance in decommissioning will be critical for the future of nuclear power generation, but there is a lack of “globally coherent and reliable information” on decommissioning costs, rendering the issue controversial, a study by the Nuclear Energy Agency says.

The study says the decommissioning challenges faced are significant, spanning technical, financial, social and political issues. Pressure is growing in some countries to speed up the closure and decommissioning of nuclear stations, shorten overall schedules and cut costs.

As decommissioning begins in countries with little or no previous experience or insufficient waste interim storage or disposal capacity, more and more questions are being raised over the adequacy of the necessary infrastructure and human resources, as well as the ability and mechanisms to finance the costs, the report says.

The report looks at estimates of decommissioning costs from several countries and says for planned projects or projects about to be implemented they range from $240m to $1.2bn (€220m to €1.1bn).

The report says decommissioning also requires regulatory approval and oversight, the directions of which are guided by national policies. Appropriate national and international regulations are required, as well as sound funding, adequate technologies, readiness in and availability of waste interim storage or disposal solutions, and a large and competent workforce.

Since these costs will incur long after operations of a nuclear power plant have been discontinued and stopped generating income, expenses related to decommissioning constitute a future financial liability. From a governmental viewpoint, particularly in a deregulated market, it is essential to ensure that money for the decommissioning of nuclear installations will be available at the time it is needed, and that no “stranded” liabilities will be left to be financed by the tax payers rather than by the electricity consumers.

A good understanding of decommissioning costs is fundamental, the report says. However, current cost estimates are not directly comparable across countries, making comparisons difficult. Moreover, the available cost estimations show significant differences and are affected by large uncertainties even between facilities of the same type. Overall, there is considerable variability in the format, content and practice of cost estimates both within and across countries.

The report says the average age of the worldwide operating nuclear fleet in 2015 was close to 30 years, with nearly 250 reactors more than 30 years old and some 75 beyond 40 years old. While refurbishments for the long-term operation or lifetime extension of nuclear power plants have been widely pursued in recent years, the number of plants to be decommissioned is nonetheless expected to increase in the coming years, particularly in the US and Europe.

Examples of the fully completed decommissioning of commercial power reactors are limited and no “fleet effect” can yet be observed, the report says. Of the nearly 150 power reactors that have ceased operation, 16 of these have undergone complete decommissioning, most of which are primarily in the US.

Other reactors, mainly in Europe, are at advanced stages of decommissioning, and will allow for valuable experience to be gained

The report, ‘Costs of Decommissioning Nuclear Power Plants’ is online:

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