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Decommissioning of nuclear facilities

Not only nuclear power plants have to be decommissioned at the end of their operating time, but also other kinds of nuclear facilities being licensed under § 7 of the Atomic Energy Act, such as prototype or research reactors and nuclear fuel cycle facilities. Depending on type and purpose of the facility there can be a broad variance in type and amount of the respective contamination. Facilities can be dismantled directly or kept under almost maintenance-free conditions for several years (safe enclosure). The latter is done to reduce radiation levels by radioactive decay.

Post-operational phase

The final shutdown of a nuclear power plant is followed by the post-operational phase in the course of which measures can be carried out to prepare decommissioning. The measures in the post-operational phase are covered by the operating licence held by the nuclear power plant owner.

Decommissioning strategies

In Germany, two fundamental decommissioning strategies are applied. The strategy of direct dismantling involves the dismantling of a nuclear facility and the release from nuclear regulatory control. The safe enclosure involves transforming the nuclear facility into an almost maintenance-free condition followed by the later dismantling and release from nuclear regulatory control.

Technical aspects

A good amount of experience is available in Germany from previous work on decommissioning of nuclear facilities. This applies e.g. to decontamination and dismantling techniques as well as radiation protection.

International exchange of experience

Various international organisations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) based in Vienna , the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) based in Paris or, in Europe, the European Commission (EC) and the Western European Nuclear Regulators' Association (WENRA) have set up information exchange programmes in terms of decommissioning.

Aerial photo nuclear power plant GreifswaldSource: EWN GmbH

Decommissioning of nuclear facilities

After final shut down of a nuclear facility preparatory works for decommissioning are carried out during the post operational phase. The following decommissioning requires a comprehensive licensing process which includes an environmental impact assessment as well as aspects of radiological protection.

Storage capacities

When nuclear facilities are decommissioned and dismantled, radioactive residues and waste accrue whose storage is already taken into account when decommissioning is being planned. Providing sufficient storage capacities optimises the dismantling process. Depending on their purpose of use and time of storage, different storage facility types can be erected. Storage capacities for the residues and waste from decommissioning projects are necessary, irrespective of an existing repository. They will continue to be necessary, also after the Konrad repository has been taken into operation.

Legal aspects

In Germany all aspects of the peaceful use of nuclear energy are regulated in the Atomic Energy Act, which also includes the basic legal conditions for the decommissioning of nuclear facilities.

Residue and waste management

Both radioactive residues and deinstalled or dismantled radioactive plant components are the result of decommissioning a nuclear facility. According to § 9a of the Atomic Energy Act these must either be recycled safely (e.g. cleared or reused in another facility licensed under atomic or radiation protection legislation), or disposed of correctly as radioactive waste. Various disposal routes exist for residues and waste materials.

© Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management