Forum: Decommissioning

Many nuclear reactors constructed prior to the 1980s throughout the world will be coming to the end of their useful life in the coming decades.

Nuclear decommissioning refers to the actions taken to retire a nuclear facility, location or site permanently from service in a manner that provides for the health and safety of people and protects the environment. Decommissioning activities are subject to national policy requirements as well as a regulatory framework for safety.

National policies on waste management and decommissioning often include decommissioning aspects that may influence the choice of a possible decommissioning strategy (immediate decommissioning, deferred decommissioning, and in-situ decommissioning) as well as timing, infrastructure, environmental, and socioeconomic impacts.

In Canada, waste owners are responsible for the funding and organization for the decommissioning of their facilities, and for all applicable steps of waste management.

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1. What do you feel are important policy considerations that should influence the choice of decommissioning strategies by nuclear operators and should be considered as part of Canada’s radioactive waste policy?

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2. In what ways should Canada’s policy address the setting of end-state objectives for decommissioning?

Read the discussion paper (PDF, 796 kb)

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Ole Hendrickson's picture
Ole Hendrickson
Jan 29, 2021 - 16:06

The discussion paper states:

"In-situ decommissioning cannot be considered a reasonable decommissioning option for planned decommissioning of... future nuclear facilities... where removal is possible and practicable.”

This raises questions: "Is removal of proposed small modular reactor (SMR) designs – such as the MMR proposal at Chalk River or the ARC-100 and Moltex proposals in New Brunswick "possible and practicable" after shut-down? Does Canada’s nuclear regulator intend to include removal costs in the “financial guarantee” for decommissioning? Or is the plan to dispose of them “in-situ” (on-site) - rather than at an NWMO repository)?

The paper goes on to state:

“In-situ decommissioning may be considered a solution… for legacy sites."

The IAEA’s General Safety Requirements document, Decommissioning of Facilities, says that in-situ decommissioning (also known as entombment) “is not considered a decommissioning strategy and is not an option in the case of planned permanent shutdown. It may be considered a solution only under exceptional circumstances (e.g. following a severe accident).” The 2019 IAEA review of Canada’s nuclear safety framework calls for “revising… current and planned requirements in the area of decommissioning to align with the IAEA guidance that entombment is not considered an acceptable strategy for planned decommissioning of existing NPPs and future nuclear facilities.”

As in-situ decommissioning is not an option according to the IAEA’s safety requirements, it should be removed from the list of options in the discussion paper. The discussion paper should state that in-situ decommissioning is not an option for “legacy sites” or “future nuclear facilities.”

"Prompt” and “deferred” decommissioning - dismantling and removal of nuclear facilities- are the only options deemed acceptable by the IAEA. These are the only options that should be included in Canadian policy. Nuclear reactors are water-cooled and built near major water bodies. Their wastes must be isolated and contained in a facility located AWAY from major water bodies.

Policy should identify “prompt” decommissioning as the preferred option, and should discuss why prompt decommissioning is preferred, and under what circumstances decommissioning might need to be deferred. It should note that one such circumstance is that a suitable waste management facility is lacking. Canadian decommissioning policy should include development of a long-term decommissioning waste management facility so that decommissioning can be carried out promptly and is not deferred indefinitely.

Canada's decommissioning policy should require accurate estimates of funding required for decommissioning of nuclear facilities and for long-term management of decommissioning wastes. It should address financial guarantees and acknowledge the need to ensure that adequate funding is available so the burden does not fall upon future generations of taxpayers.

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