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Germany’s lengthy process of dismantling nuclear power plants

Fears of low nuclear radiation run high, DW, 08.11.2012 Wolfgang Dick Decommissioned German nuclear power plants will be dismantled over the long term. Though no incidents have occurred in Germany, some citizen initiatives say legal safety measures are too lax.

Vattenfall, the company that runs the Brunsbüttel nuclear plant, recently applied to the Environment Ministry in the state of Schleswig Holstein for a permit to tear down the facility. The whole unit is supposed to be completely dismantled, rather than sealed over with a
concrete sarcophagus in the style of the Chernobyl reactor.

Since the German government decided to phase out nuclear power last year, the country has been gathering some experience dismantling nuclear power plants: the Niederaichbach facility in Bavaria has been
fully dismantled, while Greifswald in eastern Germany is among the
biggest disassembly projects worldwide. First shut down in 1990,
demolition work at Greifswald is only now ending, 22 years later.
About 10,000 workers were busy dismantling the radioactive components.
Nuclear plants are scheduled to be shut down across Germany
As of 2014, the Würgassen nuclear energy plant in the state of North
Rhine-Westphalia was supposed to be taken care of, while a year after
that, Eon has said the Stade facility will follow. Within 10 years,
work dismantling the Obrigheim nuclear power plant in
Baden-Wuerttemberg should also be finished…..

Reusing nuclear plants’ construction material
Many residents, however, remain skeptical and have said they do not
trust safety measures. Local citizens’ initiatives often accompany the
dismantling work. They examine files and monitor removal work and the
transportation of material away from the power site.
Material in nuclear facilities is carefully monitored
“We want to avoid that large amounts of radioactively contaminated
parts are able to re-enter the cycle of materials,” said Elke
Sodemann-Müller, who is part of a group observing the dismantling of
the Mülheim Kärlich power plant in Rhineland-Palatinate.
Operators are permitted to sell construction materials from nuclear
power plants. Several thousand kilometers of copper wire and as much
as 300,000 tons of steel can be recycled during the dismantling of a
nuclear facility. Since disassembling such a facility can cost up to
500 million euros ($637 million), operators have a financial interest
in reclaiming as much from a plant as possible. That’s an economic
fact Güldner of the German Atomic Forum said he doesn’t see a problem
with – as long as legal requirements are met.
What becomes of radioactive steel?
German nuclear safety law sets limits on the radioactivity of every
piece of material that leaves a nuclear power plant. Materials that
leave the site are taken apart and run through specialized “washing
machines” to clean them of radioactive particles.
“The radioactivity levels are constantly measured,” Güldner said.
But no authority monitors what happens to the materials approved for
recycling after nuclear operators remove material under the legally
set limits, according to Jan Becker, a spokesperson for the Contratom
initiative, which calls itself an information network against nuclear
Protests against nuclear power continue to take place regularly across Germany
“Whether low amounts of radiation also pose a major health risk is
medically disputed,” Becker said. “Limits should only suggest what is
safe”. But, he suspects that an increasing amount of contaminated
steel is appearing and, he says, the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA) is also looking into such cases. Many residents of a
high-rise apartment in Taiwan were found to have cancer several years
ago because radioactively contaminated steel was using in the
building. Despite the steel having low levels of radiation, over 60
people died, according to a study by researchers at the National Yang
Ming University.
Citizens’ initiatives provide extra supervision
Nuclear power plant authorities and the teams responsible for
dismantling nuclear facilities dispute such studies and have said the
Taiwan building was made from steel imported from China and India.
Becker and Sodemann-Müller said they were not aware of a similar case
in Germany or of dangerous security breaches during disassembly work
in Germany.
“We want to avoid something like that happening here,” and “the
operators should just know that they cannot do whatever they please,”
are regularly heard statements among groups critical of nuclear power.
While critics of nuclear power were once labeled “enemies of the
state” and even “terrorists,” the atmosphere between plant operators
and activists has changed, according to Sodemann-Müller, who added
that groups like hers are regarded as serious partners and are invited
to view the status of dismantling work.


November 9, 2012 - Posted by | decommission reactor, Germany

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