Plans for decommissioning EU nuclear power plants under way

Sunday, May 30, 2004

The European Commission's forward programme on decommissioning and waste management (D&WM) covers all the decommissioning of all existing installations (operating or otherwise) and the treatment of waste that exists or results from the decommissioning process. The programme is set to be reviewed every four years, primarily so as to take account of any new plants that may be built in the future. The aim is to decommission all existing plants up to "level 3" as soon as possible. This means removing any nuclear materials, any waste and radioactive equipment and any trace of residual radioactive waste in the buildings. The Commission is also investigating the green field option, where the structures are demolished and the land is returned to its original state.

The job of decommissioning the installations will be assigned to out-house companies that have built up some experience in this field. The activities will cover the safe conservation of non-operational installations prior to decommissioning, and projects for upgrading waste processing plants at Ispra for carrying out the programme. An intermediary storage centre is to be built there. Most of the Ispra facilities have been obsolete for several years and have been shutdown. The Italian JRC site is seeking to have the waste recovered by the relevant industrialised countries wherever possible. Consequently, any unused fuels are to be returned to their country of origin, the United States, and contaminated heavy water is being sent to Canada. The pre-decommissioning activities have also got under way.

The measures for ensuring the safe conservation of items prior to the decommissioning of non-operational installations will be extended to other sites until 2025, when work on decommissioning the Karlsruhe installations will start. At the moment, the German centre is managing the operations for removing waste accumulated during past research activities and has decommissioned obsolete equipment. At Petten, the processing operations have been completed for a batch of irradiate fuel originating from the period when the high-flux reactor (HFR) was covered by an EU research programme. Starting in 1996, the authorities have been making provisions for decommissioning the HFR, which totalled Euro 5 million by the end of 2003. In due course, they should account for only one-third of what is required (Euro 69 million)during the decommissioning process, on the assumption that activities will cease during the 2015-2020 period. The Karlsruhe and Petten JRC establishments will be required to draw up a provisional decommissioning plan in 2004-2005. The first phase (phasing out all the site's historical responsibilities) has been completed at Geel: the site has been decommissioned in category 3.

In short, the total cost of the programme will be spread as follows amongst the various sites: 56.3% for Ispra. 34% for Karlsruhe. 6% for Petten and 3.7% for Geel. The programme nonetheless involves certain risks and uncertainties. Apart from the physical risk (standard and those specific to the nuclear industry), the programme involves financial risks. The financial risk has also increased as a result of trends in international and national rules for radioactive waste, radiological protection and the transport of nuclear waste. Other problems are the administrative constraints, which are becoming increasingly complicated and, in the longer term, higher labour costs, inflation and a possible overrun on the budget by service providers and suppliers.

The Commission's D&WM programme was launched in 1999 (document COM(99) 114), and was estimated at Euro 453 million (1998). In late 2002, the JRC undertook a fresh assessment of the "historical responsibilities) and its "future responsibilities", when the cost was put at Euro 941 million (2003). Subsequent to a request from the EU Court of Auditors, the programme was reviewed by a consortium of out-house companies experienced in this field. The cost was then put at Euro 1,069 million, to which a "green field" option may be added, at a cost of 76 million.

The Commission believes the consortium's estimate (13.6% higher than the JRC's 2002 assessment) has lent weight to its analysis, because the difference is not important for such a complicated programme, given the risks and uncertainties involved in this type of undertaking. It has therefore decided to make a provision for the amount reflecting the consortium's estimate, while factoring in the green field option, so as to relieve it of any subsequent responsibilities. The Commission is nonetheless planning to hold talks with the organisations that own the sites before committing itself.

The consortium of experts that submitted it final report to the European Commission on June 19, 2002, comprised the Centre d'etude de l'energie nucleaire (SKC-CEN, Belgium), Tractebel Ingegneria s.p.a (Italian offshoot of the French Suez group), the Centre de recherche de Karlsruhe (Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe, funded by the German federal budget and the State of Baden-Wurtemberg) and the Dutch Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group (NRG, very profitable offshoot of the privation foundation ECN - Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands and the Dutch energy consultant KEMA).

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