What Is Nuclear Decommissioning?
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According to research conducted by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the nuclear energy industry plays an important role in job creation and economic growth. In the USA alone, its nearly 100 reactors generate $40-50 billion annually in electricity sales and revenue, creating more than 100,000 jobs for workers contributing to that domestic income figure.
All coal, gas and nuclear power plants have a limited lifespan before continued operation becomes economically unviable. Generally, early nuclear plants were designed to operate for around 30 years, while newer plants are designed for a 40 to 60 year operating period. Once a power plant has reached the end of its life, it requires decommissioning, cleaning and demolishing to make the site available for generating new income for the owner. The majority of decommissioned reactors have been shut down due to high running costs where continued operation could no longer be justified, although some well-known plants have been closed down following serious incidents or accidents where repair costs would have been too costly to justify.
Many governments are also promising to close nuclear power plants as part of politically motivated nuclear-free declarations – including both Germany and more recently, South Korea.
For nuclear plants, the term decommissioning includes clean up of all radioactivity – about 99% of the radioactivity is associated with the fuel which is removed as part of decommissioning activities – and progressive dismantling of the plant, and concludes with licence termination after decontamination is verified and waste removed.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has defined three options for decommissioning:
- Immediate Dismantling – which means the site is available for re-use once decontamination activity is complete.
- Deferred dismantling (or Safstor) – the facility is placed into ‘safe storage’ and full decontamination is deferred for many years.
- Entombment – encasing the facility in a structure (such as concrete) to ensure radioactivity is safely contained rather than removed completely.
Each approach has its own advantages and disadvantages but, generally speaking, Government policy determines which decommissioning strategy is taken.
How can Strata help?
The decommissioning programme of the UK’s public sector nuclear facilities is scheduled to last for many decades and will require innovative approaches. Strata has a range of specialist engineering, process and project management capabilities which support the requirements of both nuclear decommissioning and nuclear new build projects. Strata’s Senior Process Engineer, Paul Wilson, is helping provide clients with bespoke equipment manufacture and innovative solutions to their nuclear decommissioning challenges.
Having been confirmed as fully ‘Fit for Nuclear’ by Nuclear AMRC in June 2016, the team at Strata has been actively involved in various industry events such as Nuclear Decommissioning Conference and joining BECBC (Britain’s Energy Coast Business Cluster) in order to penetrate the existing supply chains and share knowledge.