On decommisioning nuclear reactors

25 07 2016

Some of the stuff in this article simply beggars belief…..  like “they weren’t designed with decommissioning in mind”.  Seriousy..?  That is just mindboggling.  And the decommissioning costs, at a time the world’s financial system is on the verge of collapse is similarly gobsmacking…… I’m so glad there are no nukes in Australia after reading that lot.


[Below are excerpts from the 7 March 2012 NewScientist article: How to dismantle a nuclear reactor ] about the costs and challenges of dismantling nuclear power plants in Europe] Hat tip to energyskeptic.com

By the start of 2012, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, 138 commercial power reactors had been permanently shut down with at least 80 expected to join the queue for decommissioning in the coming decade – more if other governments join Germany in deciding to phase out nuclear power following the Fukushima disaster in Japan last year.

And yet, so far, only 17 of these have been dismantled and made permanently safe. That’s because decommissioning is difficult, time-consuming and expensive.

A standard American or French-designed pressurised water reactor (PWR) – the most common reactor design now in operation – will produce more than 100,000 tonnes of waste, about a tenth of it significantly radioactive, including the steel reactor vessel, control rods, piping and pumps. Decommissioning just a single one generally costs up to half a billion dollars.

Decommissioning Germany’s Soviet-designed power plant at Greifswald produced more than half a million tonnes of radioactive waste. The UK’s 26 gas-cooled Magnox reactors produce similar amounts and will eventually cost up to a billion dollars each to decommission. That’s because they weren’t designed with decommissioning in mind.

The many variations also mean that there is no agreed-upon standard for how to go about the process. If you want to decommission a nuclear power plant, you have three options. The first is the fastest: remove the fuel, then take the reactor apart as swiftly as possible, storing the radioactive material somewhere safe to await a final burial place.  The second approach is to remove the fuel but lock up the reactor, letting its troublesome radioactive isotopes decay, which makes dismantling easier – much later.  The third option is to simply entomb the reactor where it is.

Even when the reactor can be dismantled, where do you put the radioactive waste? Even the least contaminated material – old overalls, steel heat exchangers and toilets – must be carefully separated and sent to specially licensed landfill sites. Not every country has such designated facilities. Intermediate-level waste, contrary to its name, is even more of a problem because it may require deep ground burial alongside the high-level spent fuel.

In 1976, a British Royal Commission said no more nuclear power plants should be built until the waste disposal problems were resolved. Thirty-five years on, nothing much has changed.




9 responses

25 07 2016
Dr Bob Rich

I agree, Mike. This has been one of my major points against nuclear: what do you do with it when it is past its use by date?

25 07 2016

Nate Hagens it was I think who said “Humans are not mature enough for nuclear power.” amen to that

25 07 2016

When you look at the failure to create general products that can be repaired or dismantled, as shown in aeroplane graveyards for example, and the inability for mining companies to rehabilitate destroyed landscapes, I don’t know why anyone would have thought that nuclear power stations would be any different. If the price of rehabilitation / restoration / safe disposal / recycling and so on were factored in, there would be many industries that would not be viable. Our economic system has always relied on the environment and the community to deal with the problems left behind from their enterprises.
Having said that, perhaps the mess from nuclear power would be slightly less probematic than that left behind by fossil fueled energy generation

25 07 2016
Chris Harries

The main problem is upscaling of nuclear. In order to significantly displace coal-based power the level of nuclear generation in the world would need to be expanded to at least twenty times the current level. If this was done using traditional reactor designs the ultimate levels of waste disposal and decommissioning would be upscaled accordingly.

This problem is refuted by some nuclear enthusiasts who argue that promising new nuke technology overcomes many of the problems that have beset nuclear power to date. Their problem is that these new technologies never seem to see the light of day, so they remain rather fictional. We have run into the big problem of Time. The brick wall is now too close to wait around for miracle technologies.

25 07 2016

DTM post on nuclear… queue ‘flame on’ reply from Eclipse Now! 🙂

Although there are no nukes producing electricity down under, we do have the Lucas Heights reactor – https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open-pool_Australian_lightwater_reactor

I wonder how big of a headache it’s going to be down the road…?

25 07 2016

$7 billion ratepayer bailout proposed for aging, unprofitable nuclear power plants in New York State.

25 07 2016

Now that South Australia may become the world’s nuclear waste dump, let’s visualise this – third world crews (because they’re cheaper) manning waste ships travelling thousands of kilometres across the world’s oceans, then making their way around the southern coast of Australia – either through Bass Strait or the Great Australian Bite – on their way to Port Augusta. Now imagine an accident (or terrorism) involving one of these ships – anywhere. Now imagine said accident occurring in and contaminating the southern coastlines of WA, and/or SA, VIC or the northern and western coastlines of TAS. Don’t say it couldn’t happen. We know how rough the waters can get in these areas. As a resident of Tassie’s north-west coast, it gives me nightmares just thinking about the possibility of all those ships passing by.

27 07 2016

I work in local government and few years ago, through our relationship with the federal government, I had the pleasure of touring a disposal site for nuclear waste. These were byproducts from the mining process, not spent fuel in its highly refined form or anything like that.

It was all pretty mundane stuff, lots of open space, a big pit in the ground, protection from wind and water erosion, etc. And lots of monitoring equipment.

Since this facility required constant monitoring and reporting, and a manned presence to carry this out, I asked them what the long term plan was for all of this stuff. I was expecting some kind of an answer about a termination date, a sealing plan, or something like that.

That’s when I learned a new term: “legacy facility.” That’s thier actual term for it. It means that the plan is to continue running the facility “forever.” Forever? What does that mean? Civilization is only 10,000 years old- you mean in another 10,000 years you’d still have people here running this thing?


Well what if something happens that won’t allow continued operation for another 10,000 years?

There’s no plan for that. It’s a legacy project. It must be operated “forever”.

31 07 2016
Bobbing Around Volume 16 Number 2 | Bobbing Around

[…] Read Mike Stasse’s summary of the contents. […]

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