Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Europe Has 150 Nuclear Reactors to Decommission in Two Decades


It may cost up to $1 billion to dismantle one reactor, so the potential total of $150 billion. Where does the money come from?

The US is kicking the can down the road by extending the license and doing nothing, for up to 60 years, even after the reactor is shut down. (See the New York Times article from March this year.)

(On the other hand, Spain just got $125 billion from EU to recap its banks...)

From The Washington Post WONKBLOG (6/9/2012):

How hard is it to dismantle 150 nuclear reactors? Europe’s about to find out.
Posted by Brad Plumer at 09:31 AM ET, 06/09/2012

Last year, after the tsunami and reactor meltdown in Fukushima, Japan, many European nations decided to phase out their existing fleets of nuclear power plants. Germany and Belgium are aiming to end all atomic generation by 2030. Switzerland is shooting for 2035.

Yet the mere act of shutting down those reactors is going to pose a huge challenge in the years ahead. According to a new report from GlobalData, Europe is on track to decommission nearly 150 nuclear power plants in the next two decades. Some, like those in Germany, are being mothballed for political reasons. Others, in France and Britain, are simply getting old. Yet dismantling a nuclear reactor is an arduous, time-consuming task — typically costing between $400 million and $1 billion per plant. And it’s not clear that Europe is fully prepared for the onslaught of retirements.

In a recent issue of New Scientist, Fred Pearce offered a handy step-by-step guide on how to take apart a nuclear reactor. There are thousands of tons of radioactive material to deal with — not just the spent fuel rods, but also various materials that have picked up lower levels of radioactivity. That includes, potentially, the reactor vessel, the fuel-rod casings, various bits of scrap metal and even old clothing. That waste can’t just be carted off to regular landfills; it needs to be disposed of properly. (Here’s a graphic breaking down the various types of waste.)

Very broadly speaking, there are three main ways (pdf) to decommission a nuclear reactor. The first option is to remove the fuel, disassemble the surrounding structure and find a safe place to store all the different radioactive bits. One problem with this option? Not every country in Europe currently has proper waste facilities set up, Pearce reports.

Alternatively, workers could simply take out the fuel, drain the plumbing and then lock up the reactor, letting the isotopes decay until the plant itself is less radioactive. After 10 to 80 years, the whole structure will be easier to dismantle. The third option, meanwhile, is to bury the reactor in a “tomb” of concrete and hope that no one cracks the structure open for the next 1,400 years. The U.S. Department of Energy took this approach for two old reactors at Savannah River in South Carolina.

All of these methods are time-intensive. As of 2012, some 138 nuclear reactors have been shut down (pdf) around the world, but only 17 have been fully decommissioned. It took England two full decades to finish its decommissioning of the Sellafield site after the nuclear reactor there was shut off in 1981.

What’s more, the process is costly: GlobalData estimates that it will cost at least $81 billion to decommission Europe’s reactors between now and 2030, with the biggest markets in France and Russia. Pearce suggests that some countries, such as Britain, may not currently have enough money budgeted for the task — in part because many of its reactors are custom-built and likely to cost more than expected to tear apart.

These sorts of headaches could be one reason why the United States is taking a different approach to its aging plants. The GlobalData report notes that U.S. utilities and regulators have announced plans to extend the lives of 71 nuclear reactors by another 20 years. Between now and 2030, only five U.S. commercial power reactors are expected to be decommissioned. (That’s in addition to the 28 commercial reactors that the United States has already shut down.)

Granted, the United States still has plenty of challenges — as Matthew Wald recently detailed for the New York Times, funds for decommissioning are lagging here, as well. But those problems are somewhat smaller than what Europe will be facing in the next two decades.


23 comments:

Beppe said...

What concrete artifact can be expected to last 1400 years?? In Europe 1400 years ago Charlemagne was yet to come!
Who is going to pay for the maintenance of these dump sites for so long?

Maju said...

It should be no big deal considering how quick an equivalent amount (€100 bn) came out of the blue to bail out the Spanish banks.

But the real problem is that there is no political will. I live not far from a reactor that should have been decommissioned several times already, one that has the same design as the ill-fated Fukushima I (but just one reactor, not six) but all they do is extend the deadline two years more, three years more, five years more... ad infinitum.

I suspect that the socio-political system will at some point collapse for other reasons and then the NPPs will be left unattended and millions will die, maybe all Europe will be destroyed.

It's crazy and I'd love to get away from here, meaning Earth, but it's the only planet we have, so we either defend it or we die with it.

Anonymous said...

the only thing good about the nuclear industry is the
fact that it generates money. if a powerplant blows up,
someone has to clean-up / deal with it, thus creating jobs.
same with decommissioning / dismantling it.
and again the same with the nuclear waste and also
with the health effects.
it's like evil gold. you cannot force anyone to go dig
for gold and put it in a bank, which will use it as collateral and leverage to print and lend more money.
NO, with the nuclear legacy you FORCE people to deal with it, because if they don't, they and their grand-children will die from it.
the whole stewardship of the nuclear industry forces MONEY creation...
you know, if you don't deal with it by printing money to hire people
IT WILL KILL US ALL(tm).
: )

Anonymous said...

Beppe, Maju, Anon: Thank you for your comments. Keep talking. Keep telling everyone who will listen. Working together, all of us will become like the wind, eventually a supertyphoon, and we will change the world.

I urge you all to make it a goal to reach out and witness to at least one new person every day. You won't convince everyone, but in time, with enough people repeating these messages to them, we can win their hearts and minds.

Be patient, but keep fighting.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to say but Windscale isn't really decommissioned and they started 3 years after the 1957 fire

http://www.nce.co.uk/engineers-fail-to-find-solution-to-windscale-pile-decommission/818071.article

Essentially, decommissioning work has been underway in fits and starts at Pile 1 for the past 48 years. In the three years following the fire, the air-cooled reactor’s air and exhaust ducts were closed, all apertures in the charge face, into which fuel was inserted, were sealed, peripheral equipment was removed, and the reactor was put in a monitoring and surveillance mode until the mid 1980s.

http://www.bellona.org/english_import_area/energy/nuclear/sellafield/37480

"This, then, is the dark heart of Sellafield, a place where engineers and scientists are only now confronting the legacy of Britain's postwar atomic aspirations and the toxic wasteland that has been created on the Cumbrian coast. Engineers estimate that it could cost the nation up to £50bn to clean this up over the next 100 years."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/apr/19/sellafield-nuclear-plant-cumbria-hazards

The same could be said of the Rocky Flats plutonium pit production facility. The government "completed" a cleanup that was supposed to take 70 years was done in 10 by ignoring contamination below 6'. I heard an NPR interview today that covered this the interview can be heard at the link below

"Iversen's new book, Full Body Burden: Growing up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats, is in part a memoir about her troubled family, and also an investigation into the decades-long environmental scandal involving nuclear contamination in and around Rocky Flats. Weapons production ended there after FBI agents raided the plant in 1989. Its operators later pleaded guilty to criminal violations of environmental law."

"Rocky Flats halted plutonium bomb component production in 1990 and closed two years later because of safety concerns for workers and because the U.S. stopped making nuclear bombs when the Cold War ended. The DOE estimated that it would take 70 years and $30 billion to clean up the pollution at the site, but the agency accelerated those plans — and the cleanup was finished in less than 10 years."

http://www.wbur.org/npr/154839592/under-the-nuclear-shadow-of-colorados-rocky-flats

@ anon 1:32

Nuclear power most certainly does not "generate money" it generate a false economy that places the true cost on future generations for thousands of years.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure the Yanks will see reason at some point and cease the prolonged bout of sponging characterised by the last 100 years.

Anonymous said...

We need a nuclear religion that will last over the centuries and get people to build cathedrals for free, i.e. some sacred decomissioning works.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to say but Windscale isn't really decommissioned and they started 3 years after the 1957 fire

http://www.nce.co.uk/engineers-fail-to-find-solution-to-windscale-pile-decommission/818071.article

Essentially, decommissioning work has been underway in fits and starts at Pile 1 for the past 48 years. In the three years following the fire, the air-cooled reactor’s air and exhaust ducts were closed, all apertures in the charge face, into which fuel was inserted, were sealed, peripheral equipment was removed, and the reactor was put in a monitoring and surveillance mode until the mid 1980s.

http://www.bellona.org/english_import_area/energy/nuclear/sellafield/37480

"This, then, is the dark heart of Sellafield, a place where engineers and scientists are only now confronting the legacy of Britain's postwar atomic aspirations and the toxic wasteland that has been created on the Cumbrian coast. Engineers estimate that it could cost the nation up to £50bn to clean this up over the next 100 years."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/apr/19/sellafield-nuclear-plant-cumbria-hazards

The same could be said of the Rocky Flats plutonium pit production facility. The government "completed" a cleanup that was supposed to take 70 years was done in 10 by ignoring contamination below 6'. I heard an NPR interview today that covered this the interview can be heard at the link below

"Iversen's new book, Full Body Burden: Growing up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats, is in part a memoir about her troubled family, and also an investigation into the decades-long environmental scandal involving nuclear contamination in and around Rocky Flats. Weapons production ended there after FBI agents raided the plant in 1989. Its operators later pleaded guilty to criminal violations of environmental law."

"Rocky Flats halted plutonium bomb component production in 1990 and closed two years later because of safety concerns for workers and because the U.S. stopped making nuclear bombs when the Cold War ended. The DOE estimated that it would take 70 years and $30 billion to clean up the pollution at the site, but the agency accelerated those plans — and the cleanup was finished in less than 10 years."

http://www.wbur.org/npr/154839592/under-the-nuclear-shadow-of-colorados-rocky-flats

@ anon 1:32

Nuclear power most certainly does not "generate money" it generate a false economy that places the true cost on future generations for thousands of years.

JAnonymous said...

Recently, the french equivalent of the US GAO did an investigation about nuclear power and reached several very important conclusions that have yet to be picked up by MSMs.

1/ Nuclear power is not cheap if you consider the price of the newest generation (think Flamanville : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flamanville_Nuclear_Power_Plant)

2/ Nuclear power is not cheap if you factor in the additional (and unknown) cost of decommissioning

I remember reading a paper somewhere that explained exactly what is said here : kick the can down the road to try to make the required money by that time. This has two flavors : license extension (dangerous) or mothballing (dangerous).

I think the previous anon is right, we need a new religion. Let's all hail the inanimate carbon rod... In Rod we trust !
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfTgxrxL9ug

jbvtme said...

at some point the nuclear plants have to come down. just like a bridge has to be replaced or a road paved. where will the money come from? the federal treasury will print it. architects, engineers and contractors will be hired and paid with interest free money. just do it for God's sake!

Anonymous said...

I read an article recently that said something along the lines of... each nuclear plant in the US puts money aside for their decommissioning, but the amount is so high and the US economy is in so much trouble that they've had to repeatedly take money out of that amount. Now they are so far behind that there is no way any of those reactors will have enough money for their decommissioning.

What this means is that each and every one of these reactors will be an inevitable disaster. It's only a matter of time, because humans are clearly are incapable of maintaining or even shutting them down properly. I'd wager that the "end of the world" lies just beyond the lifespans of the reactors.

This is what happens when a primitive society uses advanced technology that they can't properly sustain or control. The fact that most people can't even comprehend radiation - let alone most of any technology at all - should be evident proof that humanity is not ready.

Anonymous said...

nuclear power will lose money. The plants produced nothing. It takes five years longer to build a nuke plant than a regular plant. It takes more money to run it. Then you spend a billion cleaning up the mess. Then they have kiled millions on the process. Anyone that lives within 50 miles of a nuke plant are nuts.

enoughalready45 said...

from enoughalready45

Keep an eye on the decommissioning funds of nuclear plants in the USA as they get their licenses extended another 20 years. What happens to the decommission funds that would be "due" if the license extension was not granted?

Vernon Boog said...

If the peope had been told the truth about nuclear power and they were to vote on whether to use it or not. They would have voted it down. Then we would not have to deal with the mess. The same with wars, but we don't get to decide. We have politicians who decide and they are suppose to vote the way we want them to vote.
This form of governing is getting old. Who approved nuclear power plants? Which ones voted to go ahead with this stuff. They should be hunted down, because everyone knew how dangerous this stuff was. Look at all the toxic producing places like Love Canal and any industry thay makes dangerous toxins I bet they have destroyed the water table where they are. Who benefits? The people lose and the plant owners make billions. They should be hunted down. When they clean these plants up I can bet you you are going to havea lot of that stuff dumped in your rivrs and streams. I think it's time to leave this country, before they start closing those plants down and cleaning up. Europe is loaded with them. They aren't as plentiful in South America and I'm heaidng there.

Anonymous said...

If they had space stations built on the moon and they could grow food and maintian without planet earth. YOu can bet the rich and polticians would be heading to the moon and just let earth sit here for 500 years and all would be gone. These actors will only get involved when it comes to getting help for the blacks in Africa or politics when they endorse a Democrat piece of garbage. But silence over this nuke plant and it will destroy their world.

Ken R said...

The entire nuclear industry from academics to reactor operators are either ignorant of remediation technology or living in denial. http://energyblog.commutefaster.com/2011/08/21/plutonium-239-can-be-neutralized/

Anonymous said...

what is sad is the common folk can't do anything about the plants. It'snot like cleanign up the trash in the water or helpijng pump sludge. The nuke plants are 100% their babies. They have dumped many barrels of that stuff into the ocean.

Anonymous said...

why don't they just throw it down "mel's hole" piece at a time. lol

Anonymous said...

and who is volunteering to have the nuke waste in their backyard ??????

Peter Pan said...

How they are planning to replace this energy generated by 150 reactors in their economy? Do you guys realize that (whether you like or hate nuclear power) you are going to be rationed electricity-what it means is that you'll have 5-6 hours with electricity and the rest without. Are you prepared for that?

Anonymous said...

Peter Pan,

YES, if it means that I never have to worry about my children being placed in danger by incompetent regulators, or large swathes of land becoming unlivable, or residents being forced to return despite intolerable radiation levels. Yes, I am prepared if it means that I don't have to go to 3 different supermarkets plus shop online to secure safe food for my family. Yes, I am prepared if it means that I won't have to take a week off of work to leave the city I live in to avoid a radioactive plume floating my way. Yes, I am prepared if it means that my fellow citizens will never be left with an outstanding mortgage for a home they can never return to. Yes, if it means my children would not be in danger of being fed contaminated food repeatedly at preschools, daycares and other educational facilities. Yes, if it means that I can continue to go to dinner at restaurants or to my friends' houses without worrying about where they source their ingredients. YES, I would say I am thoroughly prepared. Rationed electricity and/or higher electricity bills are worth that peace of mind.

Anonymous said...

@ Peter Pan

First and foremost where did you get the wildly inaccurate number of reactors operated in Japan? Before Fukushima Japan had 53 NPP's not 150! The US with the world's largest reactor fleet only has a little more than 100 reactors in operation. After Fukushima the Japanese lost 4 units forever with another 2 units in serious question of ever restarting that would currently put them at 47 reactors. Whatever the exact count your made up number is three times the actual number so excuse me if I don't give your argument much thought.

The Japanese have gotten along fine without nuclear power since the disaster. The threat of rolling blackouts have been proven to be a threat and nothing more. The cost of cleaning up Fukushima will probably exceed the value of the electricity the facility has generated many fold with 47 more accidents waiting for Japan's next big one.

Anonymous said...

So I guess non of these people that have made billions from this industry should be responsible, nowhere along the way this was thought of ....? Really?

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