Swiss decommissioning costs rising

24 November 2011

Switzerland will face costs of CHF 20.654 billion ($22.455 billion) to close down and decommission its nuclear power plants according to newly released figures. The amount is 10% higher than earlier projections.

The estimates were released through the Swiss Federal Energy Office (SFOE) and prepared by swissnuclear, a specialist technical section of the Swiss electricity suppliers' organisation swisselectric. Updated every five years to reflect the current state of knowledge and technological developments and adjusted for inflation, they provide the basis on which the charges levied against the country's nuclear operators to provide funding for decommissioning and waste management are calculated.
Costs for a five-year post-operational phase immediately after a plant is closed, during which fuel elements are removed and decommissioning preparations are made, are estimated to total CHF 1.709 billion ($1.857 billion), 2% up on the previous estimate. This phase is funded entirely by plant operators and is not covered by the Swiss decommissioning and nuclear waste management funds.
The rest of the costs are down to plant decommissioning including the removal of used fuel to the central Zwilag interim waste management facility at Würenlingen, and final management of radioactive waste. These are financed through the two separate funds.
Plant decommissioning has seen the largest relative increase, with total costs for decommissioning all five of Switzerland's operating nuclear plants now estimated at CHF 2.974 ($3.231 billion), 17% up on the CHF 2.541 billion projected in 2006. According to the SFOE, this figure takes into account experiences in German decommissioning projects that have incurred significant additional decommissioning costs. As of the end of 2010, the decommissioning fund stood at CHF 1.331 billion ($1.444 billion). This will increase through ongoing operator contributions and returns on capital.
Radioactive waste management costs make up the major part of the total, and are now projected to be CHF 15.970 ($17.330 billion), 10% up on the 2006 estimate. Of this, the Swiss waste management fund, which currently stands at CHF 2.821 billion ($3.061 billion), will cover CHF 8.447 billion ($9.167 billion) with the nuclear operators paying the rest directly. These costs have increased to reflect experiences from geological tunnelling work and tougher nuclear construction standards.
The projections have been provisionally approved by the commission for the decommissioning and disposal funds as the basis for determining provisional contributions. The study will now undergo a review by the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI) prior to definitive approval by the Swiss Federal Council, which is expected by the end of 2012. Costs will be estimated again in 2016.
The estimates are based upon a presumed plant operating life of 50 years. Switzerland's five nuclear reactors generate some 40% of its electricity, but following the nuclear accident at Fukushima earlier this year the Swiss parliament resolved not to replace any reactors at the end of their lives, which would effectively see nuclear phased out by 2034.
BKW, operator of the Mühleberg plant, noted that the new estimates mean it will be required to pay about CHF 10 million ($11 million) more per year, while Alpiq, which co-owns the Gösgen and Leibstadt plants, said that the increases would cost it an extra CHF 30 million ($33 million) per year.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News