European industry rates decommissioning opportunities

25 May 2017

Germany is offering a great opportunity for new suppliers of decommissioning services because over the next five years all of its shutdown nuclear power plants will enter the decommissioning phase, Jörg Klasen, director of nuclear decommissioning services at EnBW, said yesterday. Klasen spoke at the 8th Annual Nuclear Decommissioning & Waste Management Conference Europe 2017 being held in Manchester, England. Asked where they see the biggest opportunities in nuclear decommissioning and waste management over the next five years, 57% of the conference delegates selected Germany. The UK, France, Sweden and Switzerland followed with 30%, 6%, 2% and 2%, respectively.

EnBW, Germany's third biggest utility, received a decommissioning and dismantling permit for Neckarwestheim 1 from the Baden-Württemberg environment ministry in early February. Neckarwestheim 1 thus became the first of the eight units shut down in 2011 to begin dismantling work. Two months later, EnBW received a permit for this work to start at unit 1 of its Philippsburg plant.

Neckarwestheim 1 and Philippsburg 1 were among the eight oldest German reactors taken out of service , days after a tsunami hit Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011.

In February 2016, EnBW also received permits for the construction of decommissioning infrastructure - including residual material treatment centres and interim site-waste storage facilities - at Neckarwestheim and Philippsburg.

EnBW has had experience in decommissioning nuclear reactors since 2008 – at its Obrigheim power plant, which was disconnected from the grid and entered the post-operational phase in 2005.

According to Jörg Klasen, EnBW follows strictly the philosophy of immediate D&D for all of its shut-down power plants. Consequently dismantling of systems and components in the reactor building started immediately after receiving the permit for Neckarwestheim 1 and Philippsburg 1. Detail planning and execution of D&D is supported by suppliers with special knowledge in different fields, he said. Klasen made it clear that the process also offers possibilities for foreign companies, but they need to be aware that the challenge is at the project level where the actual work is done. It is expected that knowledge of German regulations and language will be required of the applicant company, he said.

To the question, 'Which German utility has the biggest opportunities for your company in nuclear decommissioning over the next five years?', 64% of delegates said they did not know. Of the rest, 14% said EnBW, 9% Vattenfall, 6% RWE and 6% Preussen Elektra.

Simon Carroll, a senior analyst in the operation and decommissioning of nuclear facilities at the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority, said this indicated a contradiction. "In one question the majority thought that Germany would be the biggest market, so this question shows the respondents here don't know currently what [opportunity] there really is." Carroll is also chair of the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency's Decommissioning Cost Estimation Group.

Swiss vote

To the question on the recent Swiss referendum - 'This week Switzerland voted to phase out nuclear power, following on from Germany's decision to do so in 2011. Do you foresee this happening in any other European country?' - 57% of delegates said they did, while the remainder said they did not.

Geoffrey Rothwell, principal economist at the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, said the recent Swiss referendum needed to be "seen in context".

"They've had four or five votes. They could have another four or five. They haven't voted for [immediate] phase-out, so they have to come up with resources to replace those [nuclear plants]. You can't assume that there isn't going to be another referendum as there was in Sweden."

Barry Moloney, managing director, NSE International GmbH & Olenian Ltd noted that the Swiss vote was not for immediate phase-out, but for at the end of the operating life of the exiting plants.

"So it's not perhaps as dramatic and abrupt as what happened in Germany in 2011. However it's still an important step in that people have voted for an end to nuclear, which is a troubling sign for our industry, but as [Rothwell] said, maybe they’ll change their minds again."


The question 'What do you see as the biggest challenge for the decommissioning and dismantling of nuclear power plants?' offered seven possible answers. Estimating the cost of decommissioning attracted 29% of the vote; choosing and utilising the optimal waste management strategy 25%; managing the decommissioning trust fund or provision agreed in line with cost estimates 18%; lack of innovations to assist decommissioning 14%; meeting regulatory requirements for decommissioning 8%; final site clearance 3%; and transferring used fuel to dry storage 1%.

Norman Harrison, a director with the UK's Nuclear Liabilities Fund, said Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) funding for decommissioning spend in the UK is "dominant in Europe". He added: "In addition in the UK, we'll see preparations for decommissioning of the AGR fleet as they come to the end of their operating tenure. So, I think I'm largely in agreement [with the poll results] with the exception of expenditure which I just don't see in the next five years."

Moloney, who chaired the discussion of the poll results, asked delegates why is it so difficult to estimate the costs of decommissioning.

Bill Roberts, the former chief financial officer of the NDA, said: "Nobody knows how much these things are really going to cost. The NDA provision has grown 70-fold in the last 20 years. One of the key contributing factors is poor program management, so the inability to control the program is the largest factor in the cost estimates."

Saulius Urbonavicius, head of planning at the Ignalina nuclear power plant in Lithuania, said estimating the cost of decommissioning is "a big challenge".

Lithuania agreed to shut down Ignalina units 1 and 2 as a condition of its accession to the European Union. Unit 1 was shut down in December 2004 and unit 2 in December 2009. The closure of the two Soviet-designed RBMK reactors at Ignalina left Russia as the only country operating RBMK reactors.

"This is the first RBMK in decommissioning and we can't compare different plants. One thing we can do though is work out our costs through the value of contracts," Urbonavicius said.

All the used fuel from the Ignalina units is expected to be moved into storage at a new facility by the end of 2022. Known as the ISFSF B1 Project, the facility is at the plant site in Visaginas municipality. The start of 'industrial operation' of the ISFSF is expected this October.


To the question 'What more can industry bodies, such as the Nuclear Industry Association, the French Nuclear Society and the Swedish Nuclear Society, do to help businesses break into supply chains in other countries?', 43% of delegates said they could do more to help facilitate introductions with potential clients in other countries, while 40% said they could do more to create a collaborative framework to support European trade. Of the remainder, 14% said they could do more to provide better information on the nuances of working in countries of interest, and 3% said they already provide adequate support.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News