Archive for the ‘– decommission reactor’ Category

100 billion pound cost of decommissioning Europe’s old nuclear power stations

November 21, 2016
Standard and Poor’s: dismantling Europe’s old nuclear power plants will run up a hundred billion  pound bill for EDF EON RWE and others 
http://www.cityam.com/229161/standard-poors-dismantling-europes-old-nuclear-power-plants-will-run-up-a-eur100bn-bill-for-edf-eon-rwe-and-others  Dismantling Europe’s old, uneconomic power plants will impose heavy costs on Europe’s biggest operators, something which could strain their balance sheets, and hit their credit rating.

Nuclear liabilities of the largest eight nuclear plant operators in Europe totaled €100bn at the end of last year, representing around 22 per cent of their aggregate debt, according to credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s.

Operators are legally responsible for decommissioning nuclear power plants, a process which can take several decades to implement, meaning the associated costs are high. Europe’s main nuclear operators include France’s EDF, Germany’s E.ON and RWE. They are legally responsible for decommissioning nuclear power plants, a process which can take several decades to implement, meaning the associated costs are high.

While the analysis by S&P treats nuclear liabilities as debt-like obligations, it recognises that several features differentiate them from traditional debt. But given the size of the liabilities against a company’s debt, they can impact a company’s credit metrics, and their credit rating.

The report noted that a company’s nuclear provisions are difficult to quantify, as well as cross compare, because accounting methods vary between different countries.

It also foresees many operational challenges ahead, including a reality check on costs and execution capabilities.

Massive tomb for San Onofre’s spent nuclear fuel

September 13, 2016

At San Onofre, spent nuclear fuel is getting special tomb Orange County Register, Aug. 28, 2016 ,By TERI SFORZA  “……..Once, San Onofre was a marvel of modern engineering – splitting atoms to create heat, boiling water to spin turbines and creating electricity that fulfilled 18 percent of Southern California’s demand. Now, it’s a demolition project of mind-boggling proportions, overseen by a dozen government agencies.

It’s expected to cost $4.4 billion, take 20 years and leave millions of pounds of spent nuclear fuel on the scenic bluff beside the blue Pacific until 2049 or so, because the federal government has dithered for generations on finding a permanent repository.

In this vacuum, contractors from Holtec International – one of only a handful of companies licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to do dry-cask radiation storage in the U.S. – are at work. Construction of the controversial “concrete monolith” to protect San Onofre’s stranded waste has begun, over the protests of critics who decry a “beachfront nuclear waste dump.”

THE MONOLITH

The reinforced concrete pad that will support the monolith is finished.

Last week, Holtec workers used cranes and trucks to maneuver the first of 75 giant tubes into place atop it. When those tubes are bolted in, concrete will be poured up to their necks, and they’ll be topped off with a 24,000-pound steel-and-concrete lid. Earth will be piled around it so that it looks something like an underground bunker.

Southern California Edison, which operates the plant, would not share the Holtec contract or reveal its price tag, but San Onofre’s owners have recovered more than $300 million from the federal government for its failure to dispose of nuclear waste, which is why dry-cask storage must be built in the first place. San Onofre’s decommissioning plan sets aside $1.27 billion for future spent fuel management.

This is one of the first newly licensed Hi-Storm Umax dry-cask storage systems Holtec is building in the United States. Once it’s complete – expected to be late next year – workers will begin the deliberate and delicate dance of removing all spent fuel from cooling pools beside each reactor.

The iconic twin domes you see from the highway and the beach don’t reveal their enormity. They stand as tall as a 13-story building, and the adjacent pools holding their spent fuel are 25 feet wide, 60 feet long, about 40 to 50 feet deep and hold a half-million gallons of water.

When Southern California Edison begins removing the 2,668 fuel assemblies chilling there, bays to those enormous pools will open. Holtec storage canisters will be lowered in. Underwater, 37 spent fuel assemblies will be loaded into each canister and capped. The canister will be slipped into a “transfer cask,” lifted from the pool and drained.

Then it will be loaded onto a truck, driven a few hundred yards to the Umax and lowered into one of those 75 tubes. The waste-filled canister will remain inside. The transfer cask will be removed. The tube will be capped.

This will be repeated more than 70 times, until all the fuel in the more vulnerable pools is entombed in more stable dry-cask storage. That’s slated to be done by mid-2019.

TECHNOLOGY

The system will become something of a real-time experiment: Edison is partnering with the Electric Power Research Institute to develop inspection techniques to monitor the casks as they age. The casks’ integrity over time, while holding hotter “high burn-up” fuel, is a major concern of critics.

“Burn-up” – i.e., the amount of uranium that undergoes fission – has increased over time, allowing utilities to suck more power out of nuclear fuel before replacing it, federal regulators say. It first came into wide use in America in the latter part of the last century, and how it will behave in short-term storage containers (which, pending changes in U.S. policy on nuclear cleanup, must be used for longer-term storage) remains a topic of debate……..

ry-cask technology is not new, he said. Nuclear power plants in the U.S. have used it since 1986, and an analysis by the Electric Power Research Institute found that it would take at least 80 years before a severe crack could form in a dry storage canister.

The Umax uses the most corrosion-resistant grade of stainless steel; its design exceeds California earthquake requirements, and it protects against hazards such as water, fire or tsunamis.

Critics cast skeptical eyes on those claims.

They don’t disagree that dry storage is safer than the spent fuel pools, but activist Donna Gilmore says officials gloss over the potential for serious cracking – a bigger risk in a moist, salty, oceanfront environment such as San Onofre.

Once a crack starts, it would continue to grow through the wall of the canister, undetected, until it leaked radiation, Gilmore said.

Other countries use thicker-walled casks than those licensed in America, and she believes we should, too.

EYES FORWARD

What everyone wants is to remove the ensconced “stranded waste” from San Onofre as soon as possible, and the only way that can happen is if the federal government takes action.

Palmisano said energy is best expended pushing that forward, not arguing over canisters.

On that front, he is cautiously optimistic.

In January, the U.S. Department of Energy launched a new push to create temporary nuclear waste storage sites in regions eager for the business, currently in West Texas and New Mexico. Several of those could be up and running while the prickly question of coming up with a permanent site is hashed out.

There could be a plan, and a place, for this waste within the next 10 years, Palmisano said – but that would require congressional action, which in turn would likely require much prodding from the public.

“We are frustrated and, frankly, outraged by the federal government’s failure to perform,” he said. “I have fuel I can ship today, and throughout the next 15 years. Give me a ZIP code and I’ll get it there.”…..http://www.ocregister.com/articles/nuclear-727227-fuel-storage.html

The massive and growing costs of decommissioning reactors, and nuclear waste disposal

September 12, 2016

Sticker Shock: The Soaring Costs Of Germany’s Nuclear Shutdown, Yale Environment 360 25 JUL 2016: REPORT  German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2011 decision to rapidly phase out the country’s 17 nuclear power reactors has left the government and utilities with a massive problem: How to clean up and store large amounts of nuclear waste and other radioactive material. by joel stonington 26 july 16  The cavern of the salt mine is 2,159 feet beneath the surface of central Germany. Stepping out of a dust-covered Jeep on an underground road, we enter the grotto and are met by the sound of running water — a steady flow that adds up to 3,302 gallons per day.

“This is the biggest problem,” Ina Stelljes, spokesperson for the Federal Office for Radiation Protection, tells me, gesturing to a massive tank in the middle of the room where water waits to be pumped to the surface.

The leaking water wouldn’t be an issue if it weren’t for the 125,000 barrels of low- and medium-level nuclear waste stored a few hundred feet below. Most of the material originated from 14 nuclear power plants, and the German government secretly moved it to the mine from 1967 until 1978. For now, the water leaking into the mine is believed to be contained, although it remains unclear if water has seeped into areas with waste and rusted the barrels inside.

The mine — Asse II — has become a touchstone in the debate about nuclear waste in the wake of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2011 decision to end the use of nuclear power following Japan’s Fukushima disaster. The ongoing closures have created a new urgency to clean up these nuclear facilities and, most importantly, to find a way to safely store the additional radioactive waste from newly decommissioned nuclear reactors. Nine of the country’s 17 nuclear power reactors have been shut down and all are expected to be phased out by 2022.

In addition to Asse II, two other major lower-level nuclear waste sites exist in Germany, and a third has been approved. But the costs associated with nuclear waste sites are proving to be more expensive, controversial, and complex than originally expected.

And Germany still hasn’t figured out what to do with the high-level waste — mostly spent fuel rods — that is now in a dozen interim storage areas comprised of specialized warehouses near nuclear power plants. Any future waste repository will have to contain the radiation from spent uranium fuel for up to a million years.

Given the time frames involved, it’s not surprising that no country has built a final repository for high-level waste. In Germany, a government commission on highly radioactive nuclear waste spent the last two years working on a 700-page report, released this month, that was supposed to recommend a location. Instead, the report estimated that Germany’s final storage facility would be ready “in the next century.” Costs are expected to be astronomical.

“Nobody can say how much it will cost to store high-level waste. What we know is that it will be very costly – much higher costs can be expected than [what] the German ministry calculates,” said Claudia Kemfert, head of energy, transportation, and environment at the German Institute for Economic Research. The exact number, she said, “cannot be predicted, since experience shows that costs have always been higher than initially expected. ”

At the Asse II mine, roughly $680 million has been spent in the six years since the cleanup began, and the price tag for operations last year totaled $216 million. A 2015 report by Germany’s Environment Ministry noted, “There are currently no technical plans available for the envisaged waste recovery project which would allow a reliable estimate of the costs.”

No one expects to start moving the barrels at the mine until 2033, and estimates of finishing the process extend to 2065. Total costs for moving the waste to a future storage site will almost certainly be in the billions of dollars, with current estimates of just disposing of the recovered waste at $5.5 billion.

The waste issue is one reason nuclear power has been so controversial in Germany and why there is broad support among the public for phasing it out, with three-quarters of the German population saying they are in favor of Merkel’s decision, according to a survey this year by the Renewable Energy Hamburg Cluster.

“Nuclear in Germany is not popular,” Kemfert said. “Everybody knows it is dangerous and causes a lot of environmental difficulties. Nuclear has been replaced by renewables – we have no need for nuclear power any more.”…………..

With both nuclear waste storage and decommissioning, governments and power companies around the world have often opted for halfway solutions, storing waste in temporary depots and partially decommissioning plants. Worldwide, 447 operational nuclear reactors exist and an additional 157 are in various stages of decommissioning. Just 17 have been fully decommissioned.

In Europe, a recent report by the European Union Commission estimated that funds set aside for waste storage and decommissioning of nuclear plants in the EU’s 16 nuclear nations have fallen short by $137 billion. Dealing with nuclear waste in the United Kingdom is also a highly charged issue. At one location — a former weapons-manufacturing, fuel-reprocessing, and decommissioning site called Sellafield — the expected cleanup cost increased from $59 billion in 2005 to $155 billion in 2015. ……

despite recently completing a new plant, the United States is also struggling with decommissioning. The cost estimates of shuttering U.S. nuclear plants increased fourfold between 1988 and 2013, according toBloomberg News. Many governments are slowly starting to realize how much those costs have been underestimated.

As Antony Froggatt, a nuclear expert and researcher at Chatham House — a London-based think tank— put it, “The question is, how do you create a fair cost to cover what will happen far into the future?”  http://e360.yale.edu/feature/soaring_cost_german_nuclear_shutdown/3019/

Who pays for nuclear waste disposal? The German experience

September 12, 2016

Sticker Shock: The Soaring Costs Of Germany’s Nuclear Shutdown, Yale Environment 360 25 JUL 2016: REPORT “…….In Germany, negotiations with utilities over who will pay the denuclearization costs have often centered on how much the utilities can afford. The four nuclear utilities in Germany – publicly-traded RWE; E.ON; EnBW, which is majority publicly-owned; and Swedish-owned Vattenfall – are struggling economically as decentralized wind and solar power have undercut wholesale electricity prices and eaten into profits. Last year, E.ON, Germany’s largest utility, lost $7.7 billion.

The four companies have already set aside $45 billion for decommissioning nuclear power plants. But in April, Germany’s Commission to Review the Financing for the Phase-Out of Nuclear Energy recommended that the utilities pay an additional $26.4 billion into a government-controlled fund meant to cover the costs of long-term storage of nuclear waste.

The utilities were unhappy with the commission’s conclusions and released a joint statement saying $26.4 billion would “overburden energy companies’ economic capabilities.” Even so, few experts expect those sums to cover the total eventual costs.

“Some billions now are better than making them bankrupt,” said Michael Mueller, who chairs a government commission on highly radioactive nuclear waste. “So, it’s a compromise that had to be made.”

The utilities are clear about where they see the responsibility: “The temporary and final storage of nuclear waste in Germany is an operative task of the German government, which is politically responsible for this,” the utilities said in a statement. Indeed, if the commission’s recommendation becomes law, then the German government will be on the hook for any storage costs beyond the $26.4 billion paid by the utilities.

“Asse II shows us that radioactive waste storage is a complex problem that is not just about dumping it somewhere,” said Jan Haverkamp, a nuclear energy expert at Greenpeace. “There are many open questions, and those questions are going to lead to a lot more costs………” http://e360.yale.edu/feature/soaring_cost_german_nuclear_shutdown/3019/

Nuclear power stations’ hidden costs

September 12, 2016

The scary hidden cost of building a nuclear power stationhttp://www.rdm.co.za/business/2016/06/13/the-scary-hidden-cost-of-building-a-nuclear-power-station
Even assuming that SA can find the funds, we would do well to take into account the non-negotiable costs of decommissioning and waste management  BRENDA MARTIN
13 JUNE 2016 
Consider decommissioning costs before committing to new nuclear power investment

As South Africa prepares to invest in new nuclear power, we may do well to consider the other end of such investment: decommissioning. In the north of Germany, the Greifswald nuclear power plant (also known as Lubmin) has been undergoing the process of decommissioning since 1990. Before its closure, with a total planned capacity of 8 x 400MW plant built, but with only 5 reactors fuelled, Lubmin was to be the largest nuclear power station in East Germany prior to reunification. The reactors were of the VVER-440/V-230 type, or so-called second generation of Soviet-design. When it is concluded, the full process of decommissioning at Lubmin will have taken 30 years from first shutdown.  In 1990 the company responsible for decommisioning this 8 x 400MW nuclear power plant, Energiewerke Nord, estimated a cost of half a billion DM per unit. Later this estimate was adjusted to 3.2 billion/unit. Today 4.1 billion/unit is a conservative final estimate (Energiewerke Nord, 2016).

More recently, early in 2012, following the Fukushima disaster in March 2011, the German government announced the immediate withdrawal of the operating licenses of eight German nuclear power plants and revived its plans to phase out nuclear power — by 2022. As this process unfolds, it will be possible to move beyond speculation, to actual data on costs, process and skills required for decommissioning.

What is involved in decommissioning a nuclear power plant?

Nuclear decommissioning is the process whereby a nuclear power plant site as a whole is dismantled to the point that it no longer requires measures for radiation protection to be applied. It is both an administrative and a technical process, including clean-up of all radioactive materials and then progressive demolition of the plant. Once a facility is fully decommissioned it should present no danger of radiation exposure. After a facility has been completely decommissioned, it is released from regulatory control and the plant licensee is no longer responsible for its safety.

The costs of decommissioning are spread over the lifetime of a facility and given that most nuclear power plants operate for over 40 years, funds need to be saved in a decommissioning fund to ensure that future costs are provided for.

What are the current estimates for nuclear power plant decommissioning?

This year, on April 28, an independent commission appointed by the German government (Kommission zur Überprüfung des Kernenergieausstiegs, KFK) presented its recommendations to the Ministry of Economics and Energy. The commission recommended that reactor owners — EnBW, EOn, RWE and Vattenfall — pay an initial sum of €23.3-billion ($26.4-billion) over the next few years, into a state-owned fund set up to cover the costs of decommissioning of the plants and managing radioactive waste. This sum includes a “risk premium” of around 35% to close the gap between provisions and actual costs.

According to the ministry, there will be approximately 10 500 tonnes of used fuel from 23 nuclear power plants, which will need to be stored in about 1 100 containers. A further 300 containers of high- and intermediate-level waste are also expected from the reprocessing of used fuel, as well as 500 containers of used fuel from research and demonstration reactors. In addition, some 600 000 cubic meters of low- and intermediate-level waste will need to be disposed of, including waste from industry, medicine and research.

Just before KFK started its work in October 2015, a study conducted by German audit firm Warth & Klein Grant Thornton for the Ministry of Economics and Energy had estimated the following costs for decommissioning 23 nuclear power plants, in 2014 money i.e. the cost if plants were to be decommissioned in 2014:

  • Closure and decommissioning:    €19.7-billion
  • Containers, transport:                     €9.9-billon
  • Intermediate storage:                     €5.8-billion
  • Final low heat waste storage:       €3.75-billion
  • Final high active waste storage:   €8.3-billion

i.e. a total of €47.5-billion.

However, decommissioning of all of Germany’s 23 nuclear power plants will not be undertaken at the same time. Most costs will be incurred in the future. Annexure 9 of the Warth & Klein Grant Thornton report provides an estimate of likely decommissioning costs when taking into account projected interest rate and inflation scenarios, as well as various likely nuclear-specific cost increases. Their conclusion? Total costs of decommissioning all nuclear power plants in Germany could reach up to €77.4-billion.

Given these emerging figures, even assuming that SA can find the necessary funds needed for new nuclear power investment, we would do well to take into account the increasingly known, non-negotiable related costs of decommissioning and waste management — of both old and new nuclear-related investment.

Ways to decommission nuclear reactors

June 11, 2016

US nuclear industry’s plan thanks to NRC: let taxpayers carry the can for closed power plants, Ecologist Linda Pentz Gunter13th May 2016 “…….There are currently three decommissioning options when a reactor closes. They are known by apparent acronyms that are really just capitalized slogans, masking the flaws behind all three.

DECON refers to prompt dismantlement. This sounds promising for all sides, dispensing with the whole decommissioning process and its attendant costs, headaches and liabilities in about 10 years.

In principle DECON is supported by environmental and anti-nuclear groups, but with one giant caveat: the radioactive waste that remains on site after decommissioning of the reactor, must be adequately safeguarded.

Under the current regulatory scheme, the NRC allows the licensee to offload the irradiated nuclear fuel from the spent fuel storage pools into dry storage casks. These are not adequately protected from security threats. Nor is there any contingency to re-contain nuclear waste should it begin leaking from one of these casks.

Current casks designs are qualified for on-site nuclear waste storage for only 20 years and re-certified for four additional cycles. Some of these cask designs have already experienced degradation of protective seals and concrete shielding after less than a decade of use.

Of greatest concern, the casks are situated outside, closely congregated, on open tarmacs raising security concerns for their vulnerability to attack.

Consequently, the anti-nuclear and environmental groups that support DECON insist on the implementation of enhanced security called ‘Hardened On-Site Storage’, or HOSS to minimize these risks.

Rather than storing dozens of vulnerable dry-casks right next to each other in the open air, HOSS better secures the nuclear waste in above-ground individualized casks. These casks are fortified within modules of concentric capped silos of concrete and steel surrounded by earthen mounds.

The HOSS canisters would be dispersed over a wider area than traditional cask storage and would be better positioned to withstand a range and combination of weapons, explosives, and attacks, including anti-tank missiles, aircraft impacts, and car bombs.

Currently, reactor owners are not permitted to spend decommissioning funds on nuclear waste management as part of the DECON process. Nor do utilities want to go to the added expense of HOSS, which is not currently being considered by federal agencies, despite hundreds of petitioning groups and thousands of signatories to make HOSS a nuclear security priority at operating reactors as well as decommissioned sites.

A small number of reactors across the world have already used DECON (but without HOSS.) According to the Paris-based Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, of the nearly 150 nuclear power reactors that have ceased operation worldwide to date, only 16 units have completed the ‘DECON’ decommissioning process with 10 of those units in the United States taking on average 10 years to complete.

What ‘SAFSTOR’ really means: ‘mothball’ and walk away

The second option, euphemistically-named SAFSTOR, or ‘safe store’, allows owners to take up to 60 years from the day the reactor closes to complete decommissioning. This would effectively enable owners to delay the start of decommissioning for 50 years, leaving the reactor and fuel pools mothballed until then and the local communities at risk.

Unsurprisingly, this is the option that is increasingly favored by reactor owners, who are petitioning the NRC for across-the-board cost cutting under SAFSTOR, regardless of the specific conditions of the individual reactor sites.

Entergy Vice President, Michael Twomey, even told Vermont state legislators in reference to the decommissioning of its Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor, that if the process is not complete in 60 years the company is fully within its rights to simply walk away, and if challenged, would litigate. Vermont Yankee closed on December 29, 2014.

The third option is ENTOMB. Without any regulatory guidance or legal framework, it allows utilities to essentially avoid decommissioning altogether. It is the option when no other options exist, as is the case at Chernobyl.

The exploded Chernobyl containment was eventually shrouded in a giant concrete sarcophagus at great expense and resulting in radiological exposure to hundreds of thousands of laborers. That structure is now being encased with a new, high-tech “Arch”, again at vast expense. However, for regular decommissioning activities, ENTOMB should be viewed as a last resort and not as a strategy for escaping liability.

Waste management is nuclear power’s most painful Achilles’ heel

The waste management aspect of the decommissioning process remains the industry’s most painful Achilles’ heel. Despite successfully suing the Department of Energy for failure to remove the waste, as promised, to a final repository site, utilities are seeking to avoid using those funds for waste management.

Instead, utilities are seeking to siphon off decommissioning trust funds to build and manage the necessary on-site Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI) to house irradiated fuel from a closed reactor. An ISFSI is not currently considered part of a legitimate decommissioning process covered by the trust fund.

The delays wrought by such wrangling means that irradiated fuel sits in densely packed storage pools inside the reactor – and in the case of the 30 remaining GE Mark I and II reactors in the US, on the roof. (The GE designs are the same as those that melted down and exploded at Fukushima.)

The fuel pools are over-packed because of inadequate existing on-site storage facilities. But delays in offloading them, even while the reactor is still running, never mind when it closes, represent one of the greatest risks to public health, safety and security. A catastrophic fire, aircraft impact or other disaster that released vast amounts of radioactive fallout from the high-density storage pools could contaminate entire regions potentially indefinitely.

“The four ongoing disasters at Fukushima Daiichi have clearly shown the vulnerability of nuclear power plants that have spent nuclear fuel stored in these overcrowded and unprotected spent fuel pools”, Gundersen wrote in his comments to the NRC.

Fuel pools at closed US nuclear plants are a Fukushima waiting to happen

This is the principle reason to oppose SAFSTOR, safety experts say. Not only will the fuel remain in the pools, and in poorly protected waste casks, but protections and safety measures will be reduced. This is already exemplified in Vermont where the NRC has allowed Entergy to dismantle its emergency plan around Vermont Yankee and reduce inspections on the ventilation system near the spent fuel pool.

As Gundersen points out, the Vermont Yankee fuel pool still “contains more highly radioactive waste than was held in any of the fuel pools at Fukushima Daiichi.”

With a Fukushima-scale disaster is a real possibility even at closed reactors, critics are urging the NRC not to rubber stamp exemption requests. In the event of a nuclear catastrophe, evacuations downwind and downstream cannot be assumed to go well if emergency preparedness was discontinued months, years, or even decades earlier.

Even plans for site cleanup and decontamination are inadequate and have been watered down by the NRC itself. Site release criteria currently mandate clearing away surface soil down to three feet. But strontium-90 has been found far deeper on the Vermont Yankee site already. The NRC limit would open the way for strontium and potentially other isotopes resting deeper than three feet to migrate down into groundwater and potentially later to drinking water.

Instead, there should be more thorough post-decommissioning environmental analyses of where and how much residual radioactivity has been left behind in soil and water before power companies are allowed to walk away from accountability and liability.

To do decommissioning right, Gundersen argues that the state ratepayers should control decommissioning funds not the utility, because it is their money.

And, he says, decommissioning should be undertaken in such a way that operators “assure that those plants are promptly and safely decommissioned without unwarranted radiological contamination of the environment and extended cleanup and mitigation costs passed on to ratepayers or taxpayers.” 

 


 

Linda Pentz Gunter is the international specialist at Beyond Nuclear, a Takoma Park, MD environmental advocacy group. http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2987679/us_nuclear_industrys_plan_thanks_to_nrc_let_taxpayers_carry_the_can_for_closed_power_plants.html

About these ads

Occasionally, some of your visitors may see an advertisement here

Germany’s dilemma of dead nuclear reactors

June 11, 2016

Nuclear reactor sites: Dismantle or fence off? http://www.dw.com/en/nuclear-reactor-sites-dismantle-or-fence-off/a-19111969, 26 Apr 16,  Three decades after the Chernobyl disaster, Germany is preparing to go nuclear-free. Industry plans to dismantle and dispose of radioactive waste. But some green campaigners say it’s safer to leave reactor sites as-is.

Thirty years ago, the Chernobyl disaster released radioactivity that spread across much of the northern hemisphere into the atmosphere. It also spurred social movements around the world to demand an end to nuclear power.

In Germany, that end is finally in sight ,as the country prepares to go nuclear-free by 2022. But the task of safely decommissioning and dismantling nuclear power stations promises to be expensive and controversial, and will take many years.

Debate rages over how to dispose of highly radioactive spent fuel rods from commercial nuclear power stations. But there is less awareness around how the dissolving industry and its regulators must also decide what to do with disused reactor sites.

Masses of equipment and a variety of buildings at the sites were exposed to nuclear fission reaction products for years, and have become slightly or moderately radioactive as a result. Therein lies the crux of the disposal problem.

Big money, long time

The consultancy ADL has estimated it will take about two decades to fully dismantle Germany’s 17 nuclear reactor sites, and cost at least 18 billion euros – not including the cost of subsequent radioactive waste disposal.

Why will it take so long and cost so much? DW posed this question to E.ON, Germany’s largest electricity utility and owner of 11 nuclear power stations – most of them already shut down.

An E.ON spokesperson said dismantling of reactor sites must take place in stages. First, spent uranium fuel rods must be transported off-site, to interim storage elsewhere. This can’t happen until four or five years after a reactor is shut down, because the fuel rods’ radioactivity first needs to decrease sufficiently for their safe handling to become possible.

Dismantling equipment is then expected to take 10 to 15 years. Final demolition of remaining buildings and site remediation will take another two to three years after all radioactive materials have been removed from the former reactor site.

Radioactive waste materials can be treated by a variety of means – compression, desiccation, enclosure in cement, or burning to ash – to reduce total volume prior to packing, shipping, and final disposal in an approved secure long-term storage site, E.ON said.

Put it in a deep, dry hole

Schacht Konrad, a disused iron-ore mine shaft near the German town of Salzgitter, is under consideration as the national site for the final disposal of low- to medium-grade radioactive materials.

The mine was chosen because it is particularly dry inside – reducing the risk of radioactive materials dissolving and entering into the groundwater. It’s meant to take in around 90 percent (by volume) of all the radioactive rubble from decontaminated nuclear sites in Germany – but only the mildly radioactive stuff.

German law specifies a threshold of very low radioactivity below which materials are deemed safe. Materials that fall below the threshold can legally be disposed of through the regular waste disposal system. But some anti-nuclear campaigners insist there’s no safe threshold, however low.

In contrast to low-level, mildly radioactive waste from former reactor sites, highly radioactive waste – including spent fuel rods – will be left in cooling ponds on closed-down reactor sites for some decades. Ultimately, they’ll be disposed of in one or more special high-security repositories. The location of those repositories is highly contentious, and has not yet been settled.

Leave them where they’re standing?

While the government and nuclear industry are keen to get on with dismantling and removing reactors soon after they’re shut down, Jörg Schmid and Henrik Paulitz of the German division of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) think perhaps they shouldn’t be dismantled at all.

“Dismantling nuclear reactors is expensive and poses health dangers,” according to an IPPNW report in German published in January of this year.

In the report, Schmid and Paulitz say that serious consideration should be given to the option of securely fencing off old nuclear reactor sites and allowing low-level radioactivity from contaminated buildings and equipment to recede over decades.

The IPPNW’s preferred solution would see heavily contaminated elements such as spent fuel rods be removed immediately, while the less-contaminated buildings and equipment would be left in situ indefinitely.

This would avoid dispersing the radioactive material more widely, and minimize risk to human populations, the study’s authors argue.

E.ON told DW that fencing off sites was neither more nor less safe than dismantling them – but argued that dismantling is a better solution in terms of the labor market consequences.

“IPPNW’s option would mean that 300 to 400 people who work at a nuclear site would abruptly lose their jobs,” the spokesperson said.

But Paulitz countered: “The nuclear industry must answer the question: is the proposed dismantling of the reactor sites a necessary measure, or is it just a new multi-billion-euro industry?”

Radioactive steel in children’s bedrooms?

About 99 percent of the total mass of material at a former nuclear site is radioactive at such a low level that it is deemed safe – so the material is no longer covered by nuclear safety regulations and can be released into the environment, according to IPPNW’s Schmid, who is a medical doctor.

But Schmid said that what matters is total radiation exposure over time. If very large amounts of very weakly radioactive material are dispersed through the environment, for example by being reintroduced into material supply chains, that represents a significant amount of broadcast radiation exposure over time.

Dismantling nuclear power plants, Paulitz said, leads to a problem: “The great majority of the site’s materials won’t be classified as nuclear waste, and will instead be disposed of in ordinary household waste streams, or even recycled into normal supply chains.”

“From a health and safety perspective, we see this as irresponsible.” Paulitz said, as weakly radioactive steel taken from a dismantled nuclear site could end up built into a radiator in a child’s bedroom, for example.

The special and exceptional costs of the nuclear industry

January 4, 2016

Nuclear Energy Dangerous to Your Wallet, Not Only the Environment, CounterPunch, by PETE DOLACK , 1 JAN 16    “………There would at least be a small silver lining in this dark picture if the electricity produced were cheap. But that’s not the case. From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, the cost of producing electricity from nuclear power in France tripled and in the United States the cost increased fivefold, according to the Vermont Law School paper [page 46].

Then there are the costs of nuclear that are not imposed by any other energy source: What to do with all the radioactive waste? Regardless of who ultimately shoulders these costs, the environmental dangers will last for tens of thousands of years. In the United States, there is the fiasco of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump in Nevada. The U.S. government has collected $35 billion from energy companies to finance the dump, which is the subject of fierce local opposition and appears to have no chance of being built.

Presumably, the energy companies have passed on these costs to their consumers but nonetheless are demanding the government take the radioactive waste they are storing at their plants or compensate them. As part of this deal, the U.S. government made itself legally responsible for finding a permanent nuclear-waste storage facility.

And, eventually, plants come to the end of their lives and must be decommissioned, another big expense that energy companies would like to be borne by someone else. The Heinrich Böll Stiftung studysays:

“[T]here is a significant mismatch between the interests of commercial concerns and society in general. Huge costs that will only be incurred far in the future have little weight in commercial decisions because such costs are “discounted.” This means that waste disposal costs and decommissioning costs, which are at present no more than ill-supported guesses, are of little interest to commercial companies. From a moral point of view, the current generation should be extremely wary of leaving such an uncertain, expensive, and potentially dangerous legacy to a future generation to deal with when there are no ways of reliably ensuring that the current generation can bequeath the funds to deal with them, much less bear the physical risk. Similarly, the accident risk also plays no part in decision-making because the companies are absolved of this risk by international treaties that shift the risk to taxpayers.” [page 17]

The British government, for instance, currently foots more than three-quarters of the bill for radioactive waste management and decommissioning, and for nuclear legacy sites. A report prepared for Parliament estimates that total public liability to date just for this program is around £50 billion, with tens of billions more to come……….http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/01/01/nuclear-energy-dangerous-to-your-wallet-not-only-the-environment/

New York delays shutting old nuclear power plants: cost is unaffordable

October 19, 2015

New York nuclear plants phase out, challengingly  http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/10/8579839/new-york-nuclear-plants-phase-out-challengingly  One doesn’t have look hard in New York and throughout the region to see that the nuclear power industry has hit a rough patch.

The James FitzPatrick nuclear plant in Oswego County may be closing. The Ginna plant is on life support. Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he wants to close Indian Point.

Those closings and potential closings, combined with closure of Vermont Yankee in December and the announcement this month that Pilgrim in Massachusetts would be shuttered, herald what nuclear xperts say is a denouement to the story of nuclear power in the United States.

“I would call it an organic phaseout,” said Mycle Schneider, a nuclear consultant based in Paris, during a conference at the New York Society for Ethical Culture on Thursday. “Nuclear’s position is threatened by a number of factors.”

Among those threats, he and others said, are the increasing costs of safely providing nuclear power, stagnant demand, a decrease in electricity use, and “ferocious competitors,” including natural gas and renewable power.

The question for state and federal regulators becomes how to safely and efficiently retire the nation’s nuclear fleet, a task infinitely more complex than getting rid of a typical power plant.

“In the time period around 2030 you have this massive drop-off in reactors,” said Gregory Jaczko, former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Within 50 years, the nation’s 99 nuclear plants will be retired and only five new ones are in the current pipeline.

“What does that mean for decommissioning?” Jaczko asked.

Nuclear plants are required to maintain decommissioning trust funds, accounts that they pay into each year to provide for the safe removal of spent nuclear fuel and remediation of the sites when the plants are taken off-line. But experts said on Thursday that the time frame for decommissioning — typically 60 years — will lead to a series of complications for the industry even with fully funded decommissioning accounts.

For one thing, the industry will require a new set of skills to take the plants down. The NRC itself is funded by fees plants pay — funds that will dry up when plants are closed.

“Ninety percent of the NRC operating budget comes from reactor fees,” Jaczko said. “So those five plants that would make up the fleet in 40 or 50 years would now share the burden in maintaining the budget of the agency that a hundred plants are now paying.”

Jaczko said the 60-year time line doesn’t make sense from a safety perspective. One of the original rationales was that waiting that long was necesarry to minimize radiation exposure to workers, but, he said, “95 percent of the dose reduction you would get happens in the first 30 years.”

“From a technical perspective and a safety perspective there really is no rationale for a 60-year waste disposal.”

The real rationale, he said, is money.

“When you push people on these factors, they come back with ‘We can’t decommission sooner because we don’t have the money,’” Jaczko said.

John Sipos, an assistant state attorney general, said that waiting 60 years does not provide any additional financial security, but rather extended the risk to taxpayers and power customers.

“There’s the larger question: will the responsible party be there in 60 years and if they’re there in 60 years , will they have the money?” Sipos said.

Many in the industry rely on a 2 percent rate of return in the decommissioning trust funds, a return that is not guaranteed. Moreover, Sipos said it’s difficult to figure the cost of decommissioning until the process actually begins.

“At Connecticut Yankee to the east of us it was quite more expensive than folks thought,” he said, referring to a nuclear facility shut down in 1996. “You’re looking at costs that were $1 billion or more.”

NPR reported that less than a year after the shuttering of Vermont Yankee there already is consternation about how its $660 million trust fund is being spent, and whether Vermonters will ever see any of that money returned as they say they were promised.

Sipos said that the ground beneath Indian Point’s Units 1 and 2 alone contained 1.5 million cubic feet of contaminated soil.

Entergy owns the Vermont Yankee site as well as Indian Point, FitzPatrick and Pilgrim

Spokesman Jerry Nappi responded to the concerns expressed about Indian Point and decommissioning in general.

“All U.S. nuclear plants are required by law to set aside funding for the eventual decommissioning of each reactor,” Nappi said in an email to POLITICO New York. “The three Indian Point units have a pre-funded decommissioning trust fund in place that meets the funding assurance requirements of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Entergy has a demonstrated commitment to meet required funding assurance guidelines and will take any necessary steps to safely decommission its plants at the appropriate time.”
As of August, Entergy had trust funds equaling $1.6 billion for the three Indian Point reactors.

Sipos and Peter Bradford, New York’s former public service commissioner, said states should be acting now to make sure the proper safeguards are in place when nuclear plants retire.

“Hosting an unproductive brownfield for generations or using scarce resources to clean up that site — what are the states going to be able to assume?” Sipos said.

Bradford said states should be gaining clarity about decommissioning law and regulation before plants retire rather than after.

“Whether and when the land is to be suitable for other uses … is not fundamentally a federal matter,” Bradford said. “I’m perplexed that many states are so deferential to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”

After the nuclear power party is over – the grim costs of clean-up

October 19, 2015

pity UK taxpayers in decades, centuries and millennia to come.

When the party’s over … the financial spectre at the end of nuclear power http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2985577/when_the_partys_over_the_financial_spectre_at_the_end_of_nuclear_power.html Dr Ian Fairlie 1st October 2015 

There are two rules about the end costs of nuclear power, writes Ian Fairlie. It’s far more than you ever knew. And whatever sum of money was ever set aside, it’s nowhere near enough. Germany understands this. That’s why it refused to let E.ON spin off its nuclear liabilities into a hands-off company. But the UK, it seems, has lost the ability to learn from its nuclear mistakes.

Nuclear power has a wide spectrum of disadvantages.

One is that when reactors are shut down for good, a host of financial liabilities continue with no income flow from the sale of nuclear electricity to pay for them.

And enormous new liabilities for decommissioning and final disposal commence at the same time.

This became crystal-clear in April when the German energy giant E.ON proposed to spin off its remaining nuclear activities1 into a separate company, Uniper, in an attempt to protect the parent company from the multiple nuclear liabilities from the impending shutdowns of its nuclear reactors: Germany is phasing out all nuclear power by 2022. (more…)