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Shutdown of Three Mile Island’s infamous nuclear plant symbolises the end of the nuclear energy era

Three Mile Island’s infamous nuclear plant shuts down after 45 years

It won’t be free of radioactive material until 2078.
Jon Fingas@jonfingas  An important if ignominious chapter in American nuclear energy has come to a close. Exelon has shut down Three Mile Island’s Generating Station Unit 1 reactor after 45 years of use. The reactor isn’t the one behind the accident in March 1979, but this effectively marks the closure of the plant — Unit 2, the reactor that failed, has been dormant for the past 40 years. It didn’t directly provide a reason, but it had warned in 2017 that it would shut down the plant in 2019 due to the high running costs.

This doesn’t mark the end of the overall story, however, as it’ll take decades to clean up. Some of the teardown will take place quickly. Staff will remove the reactor’s fuel supply in the next few weeks and store it in the used fuel pool. It’ll take much longer to fully decommission the reactor, however. Exelon estimated that the plant won’t be fully clear of radioactive material until 2078, or more than a century after it entered service. Unit 2 is expected to close in 2036.

Unit 1 has been relatively safe, with the only notable incident being an air pressure change that briefly exposed 20 employees to a mild amount of radiation. However, the reactor has long lived in the shadow of Unit 2, whose partial meltdown exposed nearly 2 million people to radiation. There don’t appear to have been any publicly disclosed health effects, but the incident led to stricter oversight and, along with the Chernobyl disaster, defined the public perception of nuclear energy.

Exelon wasn’t shy in trying to pin the blame on local government. It claimed that Pennsylvania law “does not support the continued operation” of the reactor, and that rules “fail to evenly value clean energy resources” while dirty power sources could “pollute for free.” It doesn’t think nuclear is getting a fair shake compared to renewables and other clean energy sources, in other words. It has also complained about low natural gas prices that make Unit 1 difficult to run.

It’s not certain just what happens next, but the odds aren’t high for a revival. While nuclear is relatively clean, the rises of both renewables and natural gas have reduced the demand for it. Like it or not, the industry has moved on — the closure is a symbol of that transition.


September 22, 2019 Posted by | decommission reactor, USA | Leave a comment

A very small nuclear reactor still results in expensive and risky decommissioning

Environmental groups concerned about demolition plan for Saskatoon’s SLOWPOKE-2 nuclear reactor,

Groups worried about transportation of nuclear waste, pouring treated water into sewer,

David Shield
 · CBC News ·Aug 30, 2019 
 Environmental groups from across the country are expressing concerns about the decommissioning of a small nuclear reactor near the University of Saskatchewan campus.

The Saskatchewan Research Council is applying to dismantle its SLOWPOKE-2 reactor. The demolition would likely happen next year, but before that happens the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) will hold a hearing in Ottawa next month to look at approving the plan.

Environmental groups’ concerns about the plan include the intentions to release treated water from the reactor pool into the City of Saskatoon’s sewer system and to send the non-radioactive building materials to a private landfill.

“We don’t know what the cumulative effect or the additive effect of the radioactive burden is going to be of either of those practices,” said Brennain Lloyd, project manager of Northwatch, an environmental group in northern Ontario.

Other concerns include the fate of the reactor pool itself. The proposed plan includes filling the empty pool with concrete, rather than removing the contaminated site completely, as long as the site meets radioactivity guidelines.

Michael Poellet of Saskatchewan’s Inter-Church Uranium Committee Educational Co-operative (ICUCEC) questioned leaving the pool site in the ground.

“The issue there is that the cement in the pool has absorbed radioactivity,” said Poellet. “It’s not assured that the cement will be able to keep that radioactivity within that cement.”

Northwatch, along with the ICUCEC and Nuclear Waste Watch, have all applied to provide comment at the hearing.

The groups said they have important questions, including concerns about eight cubic meters of nuclear waste being transported hundreds of kilometres to a holding facility in South Carolina and parts of the reactor being sent to long-term storage in Chalk River Laboratories in Ontario.

“It’s a big deal project,” said Lloyd. “It seems to have been flying under the radar but it needs to come out out front.” Continue reading

August 31, 2019 Posted by | decommission reactor, USA | Leave a comment

Germany shows how it can lead the world in neatly shutting down nuclear power

Spectacular Video Shows Nuclear Power Plant Demolition in Germany

How to demolish a nuclear power plant without blowing it up, By Sheena McKenzie, CNN August 16, 2019 London (CNN Business)This is how you demolish a nuclear power plant German-style. No big red button. No dramatic countdown. No “kaboom!”

August 17, 2019 Posted by | decommission reactor, Germany | Leave a comment

Tower of German nuclear station demolished. The plant was on line for only 13 months

Short-lived German nuclear plant’s cooling tower demolished, BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, Aug 9, 2019 

BERLIN — The cooling tower of a former nuclear power plant next to the Rhine River in Germany that was online for just 13 months has been demolished, 31 years after it stopped producing electricity.

Remote-controlled excavators on Friday removed pillars that supported the tower at the Muelheim-Kaerlich plant, near Koblenz. The tower, whose top half had already been removed by a specially designed robot, collapsed under its own weight in a cloud of dust a couple of hours later.

Muelheim-Kaerlich was switched off in September 1988 after 13 months in service when a federal court ruled the risk of earthquakes in the area hadn’t been taken into account sufficiently. After a lengthy legal battle, demolition started in 2004. Operator RWE says nearly all radioactive material had already been removed by then.

August 10, 2019 Posted by | decommission reactor, Germany | Leave a comment

Nuclear reactors at Fukushima No 2 plant to be decommissioned

Tepco says it will decommission nuclear reactors at Fukushima No. 2 plant, 24 July 19,

  Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. will decommission the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear plant, its president, Tomoaki Kobayakawa, told Fukushima Gov. Masao Ochibori at a meeting Wednesday.

The facility is the second nuclear plant that the utility company has decided to decommission after accepting it would need to shutter the nearby Fukushima No. 1 plant, which was crippled by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster in the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.

Tepco’s decision to scrap Fukushima No. 2, which is expected to cost some ¥280 billion ($2.6 billion), will be formally approved at the company’s board meeting later this month if local municipalities accept the plan.

The prefecture has demanded the utility scrap the reactors at Fukushima No. 2, saying their existence would hamper its reconstruction efforts. The plant has been offline since its operations were suspended due to the 2011 disaster.

If the plan goes ahead, all 10 nuclear reactors in the prefecture — four at the No. 2 plant and six at the No. 1 facility — will be scrapped.

It will also leave the utility company with only the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture and the planned Higashidori nuclear plant in Aomori Prefecture.

Kobayakawa said at the meeting, also attended by the mayors of the two towns — Naraha and Tomioka — that host the plant, that Tepco plans to build a new on-site storage facility for spent nuclear fuel from the reactors at the Fukushima No. 2 plant.

The fuel will be placed in metallic containers and cooled using a dry storage approach, according to the operator.

No decision has been made regarding final disposal of the spent fuel, raising concerns that the radioactive waste may remain on-site for a long time.

The Fukushima No.2 plant currently has around 10,000 assemblies of spent fuel cooling in pools.

July 25, 2019 Posted by | decommission reactor, Japan | Leave a comment

Push to speed up decommissioning of Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant

TMI nuclear plant can’t go away fast enough, some neighbors and ’79 accident survivors say, Penn Live Jul 23,   By 

As jarring as the closure of the Three Mile Island One nuclear power station is to longtime Harrisburg-area residents, a cadre of them told Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials Tuesday they’d like the plant’s planned decommissioning to take a faster track.

It’s known in NRC lingo as DECON, and it can allow for the deconstruction, clean-up and re-use of closed nuclear plants in less than a decade, as opposed to the six decade-plus track Three Mile Island Unit One’s owners, Exelon Generation, has started planning for.

Several longtime TMI watchdogs, born of the notorious 1979 partial meltdown at the adjacent Three Mile Island Two reactor, said the desire for speed is partly a matter of good riddance, and a world-weary resignation that past promises about the troubled plant have not panned out.

“How many dog and pony shows can you (the NRC) bring to Harrisburg over the last 40 years?” asked longtime TMI activist Gene Stilp, bemoaning the fact that under the current safe storage plan the island would be a nuclear waste dump long past the lifetimes of any current residents.

Stilp called on Exelon, and elected officials who fought for TMI’s economic preservation over the last two years, to put the decommissioning on a faster track to preserve more of the region’s existing nuclear-related jobs in the short term and allow for a faster rehabilitation of the site.

“You could start getting jobs for clean-up right now,” Stilp said. “Get retrained in some fashion and set up things for that. But you could actually have jobs right now and start on that. Not just monitoring the site… Start providing jobs right now, by starting the clean-up right now.

“This bargain with the devil to store it (spent nuclear fuel) on the Susquehanna River is an abomination to the river, an abomination to the citizens who live here…. and it provides more terrorist targets in a big way.”

NRC officials noted Tuesday it is ultimately the licensee’s decision whether to put a plant into safe storage or rapid decontamination.

Exelon’s current timeline calls for the site to spend most of the next 60 years in a “dormancy” stage, in which most activity will center around storage of spent fuel, and a wait for residual contamination levels to naturally break down until major reactor buildings and components can be dismantled.

Exelon, however, has recently changed paths with other retired nuclear plants – including one in New Jersey this year……..

There are other ways to join the TMI decommissioning conversation. Written comments on the report can be submitted through Oct. 9 either:

July 25, 2019 Posted by | decommission reactor, USA | Leave a comment

40 years, $2.5bn costs for 4 Fukushima Daini nuclear reactors to be shut down

Tepco to retire remaining reactors in Fukushima  Decommissioning is expected to take 40 years and cost $2.5bn JULY 20, 2019  TOKYO — Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings will scrap the four Fukushima Prefecture reactors that escaped damage in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, moving to decommission all of the nuclear power plants the public utility owns in the disaster-stricken region.

The shutdown of the Fukushima Daini plant, which is located just 12km away from the Daiichi Plant crippled by fuel meltdowns, will be formally authorized at the company’s board meeting at the end of the month. This marks the first decision by the utility, known as Tepco, to decommission nuclear reactors apart from the Daiichi facilities.

Costs for decommissioning Fukushima Daini are estimated to exceed 270 billion yen ($2.5 billion). While Tepco’s reserves are not enough to cover them, the government adopted new accounting rules allowing operators to spread a large loss from decommissioning over multiple years. The company also believes it has secured enough people with necessary expertise to move forward.

Tepco soon will inform Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori of its decision. The utility intends to submit the decommissioning plan to Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority by March next year.

The decision means all 10 reactors in Fukushima will be scrapped. The Daini reactors will be decommissioned in roughly 40 years, sharing the same timetable as the Daiichi site. Tepco owns one other nuclear plant, the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa facility in Niigata Prefecture.

The Daini plant, where each reactor produced 1.1 gigawatts of power, served the Tokyo area for about three decades. Japan’s central government sought to restart the complex but faced withering opposition from local residents in Fukushima.

Including the Fukushima Daini facilities, a total of 21 reactors across Japan are now slated for decommissioning. Recent additions include two units at the Ikata plant in Ehime Prefecture and one reactor at the Onagawa facility in Miyagi Prefecture.

July 23, 2019 Posted by | decommission reactor, Japan | Leave a comment

60 years to decommission the notorious Three Mile Island nuclear site

Closing TMI: How to secure the infamous nuclear power site and why it might take 60 years

Sam Ruland, York Daily Record June 19, 2019    The mountainous cooling towers atop the island floating in the Susquehanna River have become part of the landscape in Middletown, Pennsylvania.

Three Mile Island, an icon of the industry and the site of America’s worst nuclear disaster, was once a popular tourist destination as travelers made their way through central Pennsylvania.

But the visitor center at TMI has been closed for years now, and the billowing steam from the iconic towers will soon fade to nothing as the plant awaits its doomed fate.

Exelon Generation plans to shut down the Three Mile Island reactor by the end of September after a $500 million proposal to rescue Pennsylvania’s nuclear power industry failed to gain support.

When it closes, TMI’s Unit 1 reactor will be as stagnant as its parallel, Unit 2, which has been sitting inactive since its partial meltdown in 1979. But even as operations cease, the towers could loom large for decades — it could take nearly 60 years and $1.2 billion to decommission the Dauphin County plant, with nuclear waste sitting in storage between the two units’ cooling towers.

Exelon Generation filed a report with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission in April, outlining a tentative schedule for the decommissioning activities and expanding on what a future without the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant would look like.

Here are some highlights from the original proposal along with updates from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission:

Will TMI really take 60 years to decommission?

It could. Federal regulations give plant operators up to 60 years to clean up a site after the plant closes.

According to Exelon’s Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report, the company has chosen the SAFSTOR method for decommissioning the plant. It’s one of the three federally allowed options for decommissioning a nuclear power plant in the United States and is also known as the “deferred dismantling” method.

“Radioactive decay occurs during the SAFSTOR period, thereby lowering the level of contamination and radioactivity that must be disposed of during decontamination and dismantlement,” Exelon said.

It also leaves time for the trust fund to pay for the dismantling to grow.

How can TMI’s owners accelerate the decommissioning process?

Companies such as Holtec International and Westinghouse Electric Co. are interested in buying up closing plants so they can disassemble them promptly and keep what is left in the decommissioning trust fund when the process is complete.

These specialist companies typically plan to decommission and restore the plant site more quickly than the industry-standard plan that could span more than six decades. In some cases, Holtec has said it can decommission a plant in eight years.

But Exelon said it has no plans to sell the plant, meaning it plans to handle the decommissioning itself using the SAFSTOR method.

Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said most U.S. nuclear plants now on a fast-track decommissioning schedule originally opted for the SAFSTOR method before reaching deals with specialist companies.

What happens to the fuel and other radioactive materials?

Unit 1’s nuclear fuel would immediately be removed from the reactor after shutdown. Exelon plans to build an independent spent fuel storage installation (ISFSI) to hold spent fuel in the middle of the current plant, between the two units’ cooling towers. The uranium fuel rods would cool in spent fuel pools until being moved to dry storage canisters that will be installed on site in 2022.

But if Exelon sticks to its SAFSTOR approach, the reactor’s cooling towers and other major components would remain standing until 2074. And by 2078, all radioactive material would be safely stored or removed from the site.

So really, $1.2 billion?

That’s what Exelon expects the cost of the total decommissioning and restoration of Unit 1 to be. And if you thought that was a lot, the damaged Unit 2, owned by FirstEnergy Corp., is expected to cost an additional $1.27 billion to fully decommission.

Where does that money come from?

The decommissioning’s $1.2 billion cost would be financed from a trust fund the power plant’s customers have paid into since the plant became operational in 1974.

Unit 1’s fund has almost $670 million in it currently. Exelon spokeswoman Liz Williamson said the trust fund should fully cover the expected cost of $1.2 billion for decommissioning.

If there were a shortfall in the fund, Exelon would be responsible for the rest.

The decommissioning of the damaged Unit 2 reactor, TMI Unit 2, would be paid from a separate trust fund, which has accumulated to about $834 million.

How many people will lose their jobs because of this?

Once the plant is shutdown, employment at TMI will plummet from the current staff of about 650 to 300 employees by the end of year as the plant becomes a storage site.

And when the on-site dry storage building is completed in 2022, employment will drop again to about 56, with most of the remaining jobs being focused on security.

At this rate, the final cleanup and restoration of the site may not be complete until 2079— a century after its infamous disaster.

June 20, 2019 Posted by | decommission reactor, USA | Leave a comment

Lithuanian Energy Institute scientists seriously working on nuclear decommissioning system

David Lowry’s Blog 13th June 2019 Last week I attended the European Commission-sponsored Euradwaste
conference in Pitesti, Romania, where a presentation on decommissioning
Ignalina was made by scientists (Prof. Poskas & Dr Narkunas) from the
nuclear engineering laboratory of the Lithuanian Energy Institute in
Kaunas, the nation’s second city after capital Vilnius.

Their work has been on assessing and modelling the distribution of radioactive carbon-14,
in the very high stack of graphite blocks around the reactor core prior to
dismantling. This suggests that even though Ms Rekasiute feels the
Lithuanian government “mainly pretends” the adjoining company city of
Visaginas “isn’t there”, the government in Vilnius is seriously
trying to find safe ways to dismantle the plant using the trained local

The experience gained will certainly prove useful to the UK,
which has several reactors either already closed, or close to closure, such
as the troubled Hunterson reactors near Glasgow, where hundreds of cracks
have been discovered in the graphite core.

June 17, 2019 Posted by | decommission reactor, EUROPE | Leave a comment

Duke plans to decommission nuclear plant ahead of schedule

Duke plans to decommission nuclear plant ahead of schedule,  By Carlos E. Medina, 31 May 19, It will seek permission to decommission the idle Crystal River plant about 50 years sooner than planned at a cost of $540 million.

Duke Energy wants to tear down its Crystal River nuclear power plant about 50 years earlier than planned, the company announced Thursday.

In 2013, Duke decided to keep the facility idle until 2074 and then demolish the physical plant after removing all radioactive material. But a recent review of the cost to accelerate the timeline found the company had enough money in their decommissioning trust fund to cover the accelerated plan, said Heather Danenehower, Duke communications manager.

They need approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to change plans and that process will take at least a year.

The accelerated process, which will take until 2027 to complete, would cost $540 million. The trust fund balance stood at $717 million on March 31. Whatever remains will go back to Duke’s customers. Customers, including the more than 66,000 in Marion County and the more than 4,000 in Alachua County, will not see their electricity bills increase because of the move, she said……

June 1, 2019 Posted by | decommission reactor, USA | Leave a comment

Serious doubts about Holtec’s lucrative fast decommissioning of nuclear reactors

May 28, 2019 Posted by | business and costs, decommission reactor, USA | 1 Comment

Holtec’s nuclear decommissioning and wastes empire to grab Indian Point

Holtec to snap up Indian Point nuclear units for decommissioning, Utility Dive,Iulia Gheorghiu@IMGheorghiu    17 Apr 19

Dive Brief:

  • Holtec International announced an agreement on Tuesday to acquire Entergy’s Indian Point nuclear power plant units for expedited decommissioning.
  • Entergy will sell Units 1, 2 and 3 to a Holtec subsidiary, transferring licenses, spent fuel, decommissioning liabilities and nuclear decommissioning trusts for the units. Unit 1 was retired in 1974 while Unit 2 and Unit 3, totaling about 2 GW, are scheduled to retire in April, 2020 and April, 2021, respectively, according to Entergy’s agreement with New York state.
  • Holtec announced its intentions in August to buy Entergy’s Pilgrim power plant in Massachusetts and the Michigan-based Palisades nuclear plant, as well as Exelon’s Oyster Creek plant in New Jersey, shut down last September. In each case, the deals will will require approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), along with state agencies.

Dive Insight:

The sale of Indian Point to a decommissioning firm marks the beginning of the end for the nuclear plant — the only one in New York not to receive subsidies under the state’s Zero Emission Credit program.

“The sale of Indian Point to Holtec is expected to result in the completion of decommissioning decades sooner than if the site were to remain under Entergy’s ownership,” Leo Denault, Entergy CEO and chairman, said in a statement.

The NRC is still reviewing the license transfer applications for Pilgrim and Exelon’s Oyster Creek. The regulators had not yet received any formal application regarding Indian Point and Palisades, the latter of which is set to be retired in 2022.

Entergy has not announced the value of the nominal cash considerations it would receive for Indian Point or any of its other nuclear decommissioning transfers.

However, another spent nuclear fuel specialist, NorthStar Group Services, took over Entergy’s closed Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in October. In that case, the NRC required “some additional financial guarantees” beyond the plant’s nearly half a billion dollars in its decommissioning trust fund, according to NRC spokesperson Neil Sheehan

…… The decision for Entergy to shut down its merchant nuclear generation early comes amid several other recent nuclear plant closures.

“The plant owners have found it difficult to deal with the financial realities of low costs of natural gas, subsidies to other forms of power and other factors,” Sheehan told Utility Dive.

Situated near the Hudson River in Buchanan, New York, Indian Point’s two operating units power New York City and the surrounding county.

The Department of Energy is otherwise obligated to remove the waste to a permanent storage site, though selecting one has proved to be a drawn out process in Congress.

Until the DOE acts or the waste can be sent to Holtec, the company plans to transfer the spent nuclear fuel to dry cask onsite storage, which will be under guard, monitored during the shutdown and decommissioning activities.

…….. Two interim storage facilities for nuclear waste are currently seeking regulator approval to begin their intake of used fuel. One of them is Holtec’s proposed facility in New Mexico, HI-STORE Consolidated Interim Storage (CIS). ……

April 18, 2019 Posted by | decommission reactor, USA | 2 Comments

60 years and $1.2 billion to dismantle Three Mile Island nuclear reactor

Three Mile Island nuclear reactor dismantling could take six decades, more than $1 billion, The Inquirer, by Andrew Maykuth,  April 5, 2019 Exelon Generation, which plans to shut down Three Mile Island Unit 1 nuclear reactor in September unless Pennsylvania lawmakers come to its rescue, says it would take nearly 60 years and $1.2 billion to completely decommission the Dauphin County site.

April 8, 2019 Posted by | decommission reactor, USA | Leave a comment

Unanswered qestions about the decommissioning of Pilgrim Nuclear Plant

With Pilgrim Nuclear Plant Set To Retire, There Are Questions About Decommissioning Trust Fund WBUR,March 27, 2019, Miriam Wasser
As Plymouth’s Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station prepares to shut down for good, questions are emerging about its nuclear decommissioning trust fund. This is money set aside for “decommissioning” the plant — removing the spent fuel and making the land safe for eventual unrestricted use.The trust fund is like a 401(k) for retired nuclear plants; ratepayers contribute money into a conservatively managed account that accrues interest over time. Pilgrim’s fund was worth about $1.05 billion in October 2018. It cannot be accessed until the plant permanently shuts down.

The big questions about the trust fund: What can plant owners spend the money on? And will there be enough to cover the cost of decommissioning?

Surprisingly, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has no specific regulations on how plant owners can spend trust fund money, only guidelines.

Also surprising: A plant owner also needs an exemption from the NRC to use the money for “spent fuel management” and “site restoration” — the bulk of the decommissioning work — but not for paying the host community what essentially amounts to property taxes.

This all came to light at recent public meetings in Plymouth about Pilgrim, which is supposed to shut down by June 1. The state-appointed Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (NDCAP) questioned a representative of Holtec International, the New Jersey-based company that wants to buy Pilgrim from its current owners, Entergy Nuclear Operators, about the company’s finances. …….

Everybody who’s a resident of Plymouth, including all of our town meeting members, should understand that the intention of both Entergy and Holtec is to take ratepayer money to pay their taxes,” said NDCAP Chairman Sean Mullin. …….

March 30, 2019 Posted by | decommission reactor, USA | Leave a comment

Germany’s huge task in dismantling its nuclear power stations

Germany’s atomic phase-out: How to dismantle a nuclear power plant Mar 19, Germany now has just seven nuclear plants left in operation, but what becomes of those that are already decommissioned? Bits of them are recycled, and could ultimately end up in our kitchens.

When Egbert Bialk looks at the giant demolition robot perched on top of the cooling tower at the Mülheim-Kärlich nuclear power plant, it makes him happy.

“Happy that the eyesore is finally being dismantled,” he told DW. “Some said we should leave it standing as a memorial or piece of art. But for me the tower is like a symbol of humanity’s arrogance, of us playing with fire.”

Bialk began campaigning against the reactor when it was built near his home in the 1970s, and has since joined the local chapter of environmental group BUND to observe the 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) decommissioning of the facility.

The dismantling of the western German plant, which will take two decades to complete, started in 2004, seven years before the Fukushima disaster that prompted Angela Merkel’s government to announce the nation’s complete withdrawal from nuclear power by 2022.

With just a couple of years to go before that deadline, seven plants  are still in operation, and even after they’ve shut down for good, it will take many more years before all the country’s reactors have been safely dismantled, and contaminated sites cleared and deemed free of radiation

One of the most pressing questions during this lengthy process, is what to do with the radioactive waste?

Buried in mines

The first things to be removed are the heavily contaminated spent fuel rods, which contain the nuclear fuel that is converted into electrical power.

Because Germany doesn’t yet have a long-term depository for highly radioactive waste, the rods are currently stored in so-called Castor containers in several locations across the country.

By the time all the nation’s reactors have been decomissioned, there will be around 1,900 such containers in interim storage. And there they will remain until a suitable location for their permanent resting place has been found

Read more: Nuclear waste in disused German mine leaves a bitter legacy

“We expect the storage phase to take 50 years,” Monika Hotopp, spokeswoman of BGE told DW.

Exactly what it will all cost, is unknown. Much depends on the ultimate location, but the 4.2 billion euro preparations of a former iron ore mine known as pit Konrad to be used as the final depository for low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste could serve as some kind of indicator.

Once things like technical equipment and parts of buildings exposed to nuclear fission reaction for years, have been buried in the mine, it will be filled up with concrete and sealed.

“When sealed, it’s safe and there should be no danger of nuclear radiation for the environment,” Hotopp told DW.

Environmental groups however, warn that nuclear waste remains a threat even when buried deep under the ground.

“The depositories have to be able to contain radiation for up to 500,000 years,” local environmentalist Bialk told DW. “We are giving a time bomb to future generations.”

Building materials recycled into roads and pots

And what happens to the rest of the waste? The hundred of thousands of tons of metal, concrete, pipes and other building materials that accumulate during the dismantling process?

Because under German law, the entire plant, including offices and the canteen, are considered radioactive, no single item can be removed before operators can prove it is no longer contaminated. Once considered free of radiation or at least to be below the safety limit, the waste can be disposed of at regular landfills and recycling sites.

Environmental groups and locals criticize this practice, on the grounds that once materials have been recycled, nobody knows where they end up. Concrete from nuclear power plants could be used to pave our roads, while metals could be melted and turned into pots and pans.

“Melted metals could even be turned into braces for kids; they could be contaminated by radiation and no one would know,” he told DW. “I think it would be useful to track where the materials from nuclear sites end up.”

But experts don’t regard post-decommissioning monitoring as necessary.

“The risks are minimal,” Christian Küppers, who specializes in nuclear facility safety at the environmental research center Oeko-Institut, told DW. “The safety limits for radiation correspond to what we are naturally exposed to in the environment,”

All the material from nuclear power plants that expose radiation below 0.01 millisieverts per year can be recycled, Küppers continued.

By way of comparison, the Oeko- Institut says people are exposed to natural radiation of 2.1 millisieverts per year in Germany, and a one-way transatlantic flight exposes those on board to between 0.04 and 0.11 millisieverts of radiation.

From nuclear site to “greenfield”

Once the nuclear power plants have been completely dismantled, all the waste removed and when there is no longer any measurable trace of radiation, the premises can be returned to greenfield status.

At this point, the premises are considered to be regular industrial sites, and can be sold as such.

Likewise pit Konrad. Once the mine has been closed and sealed, which is expected to happens around the year 2100, the land on top of it will also be returned to greenfield space. Theoretically, houses could then be built on it.

Whether anybody would want to live there, is another question, says Monika Hotopp from BGE, the federal company in charge of the long-term storage sites.

Because ultimately, nuclear power has become synonymous with danger. And as Bialk puts it, even when all the  plants have been dismantled and the waste stored, the problem won’t have gone away.

“First, the radioactive waste remains dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years. Second, other countries still rely on nuclear power,” he said. “There are more than 50 nuclear power plants in France alone, and if an accident were to happen there, it would affect us, too.”

March 12, 2019 Posted by | decommission reactor, Germany | Leave a comment