Energy plays a significant role in enhancing major operations in any country. However, the majority of the countries in the world rely on petroleum as the only source of energy. With the increase in the price of global oil, it becomes hard for most countries to operate. In addition, a lot of concerns have been raised over the environmental impacts of the excessive use of petroleum. For this reason, there are calls for the adoption of alternative sources of energy due to the high environmental impacts of petroleum, as well as the increased cost of petroleum (Bakari et al. 502).
One of the immediate and promising sources of alternative energy is nuclear power generation. In spite of this, Benjamin pointed out that the generation of power from nuclear plant requires effective planning and consideration of numerous factors to ensure that such source of energy is safe to the environment as well as the human beings (373). According to Bakari et al., this is attributable to the fact that such process involves radioactive materials that can have adverse impacts on people and the environment (502). For this reason, there ought to be effective processes and plans to carry out successful decommissioning of any given nuclear power plant (Bakari et al. 502; Bayliss and Langley 9).
According to Bayliss and Langley, the decommissioning of a nuclear power plant is important because such plants, and other related facilities are harmful since they contain radioactive materials (7). Therefore, such facilities should be made effective by adopting measures that are relatively cheap and timely to enhance safe and effective removal, as well as disposal of the nuclear materials (Benjamin 373). This paper provides an in-depth investigation and analysis of the concept of decommissioning of a nuclear power plant.
The primary goal of this essay is to examine the idea of decommissioning a nuclear power plant. As such, to carry out a comprehensive review of this subject, there are specific objectives to be achieved. These objectives include establishing what decommissioning means as well as why the decommissioning process is necessary. Secondly, the essay examines the various phases of decommissioning to provide more insights into the subject under examination. The third objective is to find out the environment impacts of decommissioning, and lastly, to explore the nuclear waste of decommissioning. This objective is important, as it will provide the rationale for engaging in a decommissioning process.
The study’s objectives are discussed below:
To find out the meaning of decommissioning
The first objective of this research was to find out the meaning of decommissioning. Therefore, to fulfill this objective, various studies carried out in the past were examined. Benjamin described decommissioning as a process that is carried for the purpose of decontaminating any power plant once it reaches a specified period (373). In support of this, Bond et al. pointed out that any nuclear, gas, coal, or even power plants have a finite lifespan, which refers to the point when the operation of such plants is not economically feasible and hence, has to be terminated (617).
As such, Bond et al. noted that the process of decommissioning a nuclear plant includes several procedures which are aimed at dismantling any nuclear power site that has reached its allocated years of operation given that most nuclear power plants are designed to last for 30-40 years (617). For this reason, it is evident that decommissioning is a routine that all nuclear facilities have to go through in their lifetime. The process of decommissioning any power plant is thus, determined by the economic feasibility of its current operations. If the operations are no longer feasible, such a plant ought to be decommissioned and decontaminated for the purpose of the site being used for other economic activities. According to Sato, the decommissioning process ensures that any radioactive materials are removed from the site before dismantling (14). As such, the basic objective of this process is to enhance the safety of the environment and humans by decontaminating and dismantling any given radioactive plant that has completed its operations.
To find out the significance of the decommissioning process
The second objective of this research was to find out whether or not the decommissioning process of any nuclear power plant has any form of significance. Empirical evidence indicates that decommissioning is a process that has to be carried out to all nuclear plants and related facilities after the end of their lifetime (Benjamin 373). Such a process has a number of benefits to the environment as well as to people.
First, nuclear power generation and the any other radioactive materials are dangerous to the lives of individuals around such plants, as well as the surrounding environment (Bakari et al. 503; Sato 14). This is attributable to the fact that nuclear power generation involves materials that can be harmful to human health and destructive to the environment due to their radioactive nature. For this reason, no radioactive facilities should be left unattended to after the completion of its intended purpose. This is attributable to the fact that such facilities contain harmful materials which if not decontaminated can be dangerous to people and the environment as evident in the case of Japan’s power plant accident. As such, it is important to ensure that the termination of the operations in any nuclear power plant is carried out with utmost care for the purpose of preventing the emission of any harmful emissions to the environment (Bakari et al. 503).
Therefore, the process of decommissioning a power plant is highly significant in that it not only ensures the termination of the operations of any given facility, but also provides safety measures to be followed to ensure that the facility is not harmful to the environment or to the people (Sato 14). In addition, the entire process of decommissioning prepares the site for other use.
To identify the phases of decommissioning
The process of decommissioning a power plant is carried out stepwise. As such, the third objective of this research was to establish the steps of decommissioning a nuclear power plant. There are three phases of decommissioning which include the initial activities phase, the major decommissioning activities phase, and the license termination activities phase (Benjamin 373). The first phase, the initial activities stage, involves the activities that are carried out to start off the decommissioning process and may include notifying the necessary authorities about the plan to decommission a given facility. The second phase involves the bulk of the entire process after the initial activities have been carried out. The last stage involves the termination of the plant’s license of operation and is carried out after all the necessary requirements for decommissioning have been met.
Evidently, the process of decommissioning any power plant is involving and has to be carried out stepwise to ensure that all the necessary safety measures are implemented. All the three stages are discussed further under the subtitle phases of decommissioning.
To find out the environmental impacts of decommissioning
There was a need to establish whether or not there are any significant impacts of decommissioning to the environment. This decision to examine this concept was informed by the fact that nuclear power plants and related facilities deal with materials that are highly harmful to the environment if not handled properly (Bayliss and Langley 7). As such, the subject of environmental impacts of decommissioning is worth investigating (Sato 14). The process of decommissioning a nuclear power plant affects many aspects of the environment including water, air, land, as well as flora and fauna.
This process affects the surface water hydrology where fine materials are eroded and deposited in waterways. As such, the demolition and decommissioning of nuclear plants affects the quality and hydrology of surface and groundwater. Secondly, activities involved during decommissioning can adversely affect the physical features of land, as well as its use (Bayliss and Langley 7). Thirdly, the decommissioning process has a high potential for the release of harmful emissions to the atmosphere hence, polluting the air. Some of the materials released to the air include dust. In most of the cases, dust from nuclear plants may contain toxic substances like asbestos. Emission of such materials to the atmosphere has negative impacts on the quality of local air. Such air pollution can have disastrous effects to the environment and human health.
On the other hand, decommissioning any nuclear power plant affects the ecology. This is attributable to the fact that the process involves demolishing existing structures as well as clearing sites that have stayed for long without operating. Therefore, the decommissioning process affects the ecological system around the plant.
Radical waste of decommissioning
The process of decommissioning any nuclear power plant is associated with discharge of considerable amount of waste (Bayliss and Langley 7). Concerns have been raised over the fact that in most cases, the process of demolishing and decommissioning nuclear facilities does not radiologically restrict waste generation. For this reason, radioactive materials of various intensities are released during this process (Sato 14). Therefore, there is a need to adopt the necessary measures to ensure that the radioactive waste generated during the process of decommissioning a power plant is handled well for safe discharge.
The decommissioning concept
Following the Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi accident involving a nuclear power plant, concerns have been raised alongside the call to carry out an effective review of nuclear power programs in various countries all over the world. For example, in the case of Germany, instead of reviewing the programs to improve where necessary, the state just decided to put a stop to its nuclear power program. According to the current pressure on power plants due to the consequences of Japan’s accident, it is more likely that there will be a high number of plants being decommissioned on international levels.
Plans have been taken to ensure that more than 75 civilian nuclear power reactors are closed in the future (International Atomic Energy). In spite of this, there are prospects that a number of the plants cited for decommissioning will have their licenses extended. Nevertheless, the national, as well as the international nuclear power regulations, are tasked with a difficult responsibility of ensuring that the right procedures of termination are followed while at the same time making sure that all the necessary requirements are met (Benjamin 373). As such, for successful decommissioning, there is always the need for trained and qualified personnel, the adoption, and use of innovative strategies, as well as extensive funding.
The decommissioning process
Decommissioning describes a process through which nuclear power plants are effectively decontaminated after a certain period of operation. Any nuclear, gas, coal, or even power plants exhibit a given finite lifespan. Such a lifespan can be described as the point in time when the operation of such plants is not economically feasible (Benjamin 373; Bond et al. 617). This process occurs in areas such as uranium processing sites, uranium mines, nuclear and radiological laboratories, enrichment plants, research reactors, fuel processing plants, as well as in power stations.
In addition, it is possible to decommission the reactors which are used in the powering of ships and submarines. The process of decommissioning a power plant forms a significant part of the entire process followed when shutting down any nuclear reactor. Traditionally, the majority of the power plants were designed to last for about 30 years. In spite of this, constant refurbishments of most of the traditional power plants have been able to operate past the projected 30 years. According to the International Atomic Energy, most of the power plants available nowadays were built based on a life span of between 40 and 60 years. Often, whenever a given power plant has reached its lifespan limit, it is dismantled, and the area cleaned up to ensure that it is safe for other operations.
According to the views of Bond et al., the decommissioning of a nuclear plant refers to procedures that are adopted to dismantle any nuclear power site following its attainment of the projected years of operation as well as having reached a point where any operations within the plant are not economically feasible (617). Often, this refers to the optimal point of any nuclear plant during which the radiation protection measures are no longer needed. Thus, decommissioning process entails the removal of any used nuclear fuel from the reactors (Sato 14). Bayliss and Langley asserted that radioactive materials are highly harmful and hence, the decommissioning process requires a lot of care and precision especially in the handling of the already used fuel (16). As such, it is important to ensure the complete removal of all the fuels from the reactors, as well as their careful storage in dry containers.
Benjamin noted that various processes are involved in the handling of radioactive materials (9). Such processes have serious impacts on the environment and people. In addition, dealing with such materials can be time-intensive and expensive and thus, requires careful planning. Based on this statement, decommissioning can be described from the perspective of a technical and administrative process that takes the consideration of cleaning up any radioactive materials, as well as progressively demolishing the concerned plant (Bond et al. 617). Such a process aims at ensuring that no danger is posed to people or the environment by radioactive elements from any nuclear plant (Bayliss and Langley 9; Benjamin 373). Often, decommissioning a nuclear plant involves spreading the associated costs over the projected lifetime of the plant. This statement implies that the cost of decommissioning any given facility should not outweigh the projected revenue to be obtained from the concerned facility.
According to the International Atomic Energy, the primary aim of decommissioning any radioactive or nuclear plant is to ensure that the winding up of any nuclear power generation is carried out with utmost care. In the case of USA, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) oversees the termination of any nuclear power plant as well as the withdrawal of the license of operation. The mandate of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is to ensure that all facilities dealing with nuclear and radioactive materials follow the right procedure of decommissioning after they have reached their lifetime. For this reason, the International Atomic Energy pointed out that there ought to be a number of policies and procedures that should be followed to ensure effective and successful decommissioning of any nuclear and radioactive plant. For this reason, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has set up some guiding procedures and regulations that need to be adhered to by any plant undergoing decommissioning. According to the provisions of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a successful decommissioning process ought to involve state and local authorities. In support of this, Bond et al. cited the significance of public participation in the termination of any plant (620).
As pointed earlier, decommissioning ensures the elimination of a plant’s ability to react by removing any residuals of radioactive materials and other contaminants, as well as the storage of the nuclear fuel until it can be disposed and the discharge of facilities for use by other companies or individuals. Based on this description, it is evident that a lot of responsibility as far as the decommissioning process is concerned is left to the owner of the concerned plant.
The success of the decommissioning process is determined by the level of preparation done. One of the significant factors of consideration before carrying out the decommissioning is the availability of the necessary amount of capital to finance the involved operations (Bayliss and Langley 7). As such, it is a requirement by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that a company hoping to decommission its plants should show assurance of sufficient finance to cater for the entire process. As such, according to the International Atomic Energy, it is advisable for companies to make prior preparation for the decommissioning process.
However, based on the capital-intensive nature of this process, nuclear regulatory bodies and other related authorities prefer organizations to provide a plan for decommissioning before being awarded the license to carry out any operations involving nuclear and other radioactive materials (Bakari et al. 506). The implication of this statement is that the decommissioning problem and associated challenges should be dealt with right from the inception of any idea to start a given plant. This is necessary since it allows the owners and any other stakeholders to make an estimate of the potential return from the proposed plant against possible expenses including the cost of decommissioning.
In most of the cases, a trust fund is introduced in which decommissioning funds are kept to avoid inconveniences at the termination period. Whenever an assurance fund is used, it is important for the company that is planning on terminating the operations of a given plant to engage various authorities such as federal and state regulators as a means to prepare the consolidation of enough money for the decommissioning process (International Atomic Energy). In spite of this, decommissioning funds are not under the control of the generating company. The license of any company cannot be terminated unless all the necessary decommissioning procedures are followed and all the requirements.
Importance of decommissioning
The process of decommissioning is essentially done to reduce the probability of adverse environmental impacts in the future. As a result, decommissioning is done to settle issues between the advocates and opponents of nuclear energy. For instance, the supporters claim that nuclear power is the most wanted form of energy due to increased demand and the need to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (Bakari et al. 503). In addition, they state that there are issues of political instability in most oil producing companies that warrant a greater need for energy independence. On the other hand, nuclear energy opponents use environmental damage from mining, transport, and processing, safety risks and public health to discourage people from using it. As a result, decommissioning is recommended to ensure that any potential effects are reduced or totally eradicated.
The process has several measures that are mainly put in place to protect the environment as well as human beings from the radioactive materials that may be produced. Another reason why decommissioning may take place is to keep pace with the government policies. With time, governments in different countries set up policies that are aimed at ensuring the general well-being of its peoples’ environment. As a result, they update their decommissioning process to be up to date with technological advancements. Lastly, decommissioning may be done to ensure the economic stability of a country. For instance, countries find it cheaper to use nuclear energy as opposed to other forms of energy that emit harmful chemicals into the atmosphere.
As a further measure to ensure the decommissioning process is successful, there are several activities that take place (Bayliss and Langley 7). These activities include dismantling the plant itself or its reactors, decontaminating and characterizing. As a result, there are three different approaches that any company can use to ensure successful decommissioning. These approaches are dismantling, deferred dismantling, and entombment. Companies this need to come up with agreed upon procedures before they can make decisions on the closure of the facilities. The other requirements may the availability of disposal sites where discharged waste can be stored, qualified personnel to work on the plants, as well as the availability of enough capital to fund the necessary operations. In addition, there is a need for a regulatory body to oversee the entire process.
Radical waste decommissioning
Over the past years, decommissioning has been carried out with little or no main radiological problems. In spite of this, it is important to question the safety of any decommissioning process, establish any potential consequences that can be experienced in any country or region following the shutdown of nuclear power plant, as well as find out the sources of the high costs associated with any decommissioning process. Each process of decommissioning a power plant has a number of technical challenges as well as risks that are likely to affect the health of human beings as well as the environment. In spite of this, the occurrence of such risks or any challenges depends on the operational practices within a given period of time, as well as on the specific choices regarding the design and construction of the specific plant.
In most cases, waste generation in the course of decommissioning a plant remains radiologically unrestricted. The waste from such a process can include intermediate and low-level radioactive materials. Majorly, the operation of any reactor involves the generation of high-level radioactive waste which is often used as the nuclear fuel. Even though decommissioning involves the generation of radioactive waste of low levels compared to when a given power plant is in operation, it is evident that decommissioning leads to the generation of larger volumes of radioactive waste materials. This can be attributed to the fact that the closure of any nuclear and radioactive site leads to the decrease in the levels of radiation generated over a given period.
Decommissioning of nuclear power plants has been ongoing for a long time. For example, in 2012 alone, more than 135 civilian nuclear power reactors underwent decommissioning in over ten nations. This major shutdown saw the United States of America close to twenty-eight plants, while the United Kingdom, France, and Germany closed twenty-seven, nine, and twelve plants respectively (International Atomic Energy). The decommissioning process is complex and involving, and for that reason, it can take long since there are numerous procedures to be completed and requirements to fulfilled. As evident in the case of the United Kingdom, the process of decommissioning a reactor that was shut down in 1981 ended twenty years later in 2011.
According to the trends, there is a likelihood of increased backlog of civilian nuclear power reactors in wait for decommissioning (Bakari et al. 502). Such backlog is attributed to the existence of a large legacy of reactors from institutions dealing with military research. With regard to the early years of nuclear energy, empirical evidence shows that a significant legacy exists in terms of facility contamination. Most of the facilities with such legacy include the scientific and demonstration as well as military facilities. Not unless such facilities undergo successful decommissioning, they remain to be a threat to the environment and the human health as well.
In addition, the lack of effective decommissioning of any given nuclear facility as evident in the case of the military ones, pose a huge challenge to the future of nuclear power generation. As such, individuals carrying out any decommissioning process ought to be prepared and seek to deal with problems such as information about the state of the equipment and sites, as well as inadequate information regarding the history and general operations of the given plant. For example, the majority of nuclear power plants in the United Kingdom lacks a well detailed and up-to-date inventory of waste and waste management, as well as do not have the appropriate design. In addition, most of the UK’s plants were one-off projects.
The department of energy in the United States has adopted extraordinary efforts aimed at ensuring that over hundred sites that were used for military research, and other weaponry sites are decontaminated by the year 2025. Such a process involves managing a large volume of contaminated soil, groundwater as well as debris. One example of a contaminated site that requires attention is the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, in the US. Another site is the larger Hanford nuclear plant in Washington that houses large volumes of liquid waste contaminants. Previously, the department of energy in the United States of America managed to clean up the Rocky Flats in Colorado. In spite of this, the chances are high that there are sites that might remain uncleaned due to unrestricted use. For example, such a case is considered whenever there is a possibility that the decommissioning of a given plant would result in the emission of harmful radiation or the discharge of radioactive waste. According to the suggestions of IAEA, it is much economical to reuse any decommissioned sites that have not undergone full cleaning up.
On the other hand, there are reactors that were established for the purpose of powering submarines and ships, and which are considered a legacy concern nowadays. This is attributable to the fact that successful decommissioning of any nuclear submarine site leads to the production of over 750 tons of dangerous waste material. Following the end of the Cold War, more than 400 nuclear submarines were in existence. Even though a number of them are no longer in operation, there are a considerable proportion of such reactors that are still to be decommissioned and hence, are not only risk to the environment but also to the human health.
Presently, the world has more than 430 civilian nuclear power reactors that are still in operation. According to IAEA, the majority of the operational nuclear plants have been in operation for more than thirty years. The implication is that in the near future, there will be a large number of such facilities in need of shutdown and decommissioning.
Most of the operational civilian nuclear power plants are likely to continue their generation of power and possibly renew the license. In addition, there are still more power plants under construction. The implication is that the need to decommission nuclear power plants is a continuous one. The 2011 mega earthquake and the tsunami that followed were instrumental for the occurrence of the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident, which led to massive loss of life and property. The areas around the site of this nuclear plant were contaminated with radioactive materials making it unproductive for agriculture as well as uninhabitable for people.
The occurrence of the Japan’s nuclear power plant accident had enormous impacts on the capacity of the country to produce any more power. Following such scenario, concerns have been raised by numerous countries over the feasibility of nuclear power generation. This was proved by Germany’s move to terminate its nuclear power generation. Overly, a review of the state and trends in decommissioning in various parts of the world reveals that there are numerous nuclear power reactors that are in wait for decommissioning in the near future.
Strategies that can be used in decommissioning
As pointed out early, the process of decommissioning a nuclear power plant is complex and capital and labor-intensive. For this reason, any plans to decommission a given plant ought to be effectively planned with all the necessary and potential risks taken into consideration (Bayliss and Langley 7). Therefore, three different approaches are available through which decommissioning can be carried out (Bakari et al. 505). These approaches included the entombment, deferred dismantling, as well as the immediate dismantling. However, the success in any of these approaches depends on a number of factors. For example, the timing as far as the decommissioning of a given power plant is a very vital element for the success of either the entombment approach, the deferred dismantling, or even the immediate dismantling approach.
Secondly, the use of the concerned plant in the future is also a factor to consider before planning on what decommissioning strategy to use (Gin 243). On the other hand, capital is the important element of consideration regarding the choice of the decommissioning approach to be used for a given project. In spite of this, all the three methods require large amounts of capital due to the complexity of the entire process. All the three approaches to decommissioning are described below.
Immediate dismantling approach
This approach involves giving consideration to all the structures, equipment, and general parts of the given plant. As such, the immediate dismantling of a nuclear power plant focuses on the removal of plant’s parts, structures and all equipment suspected to contain radioactive contaminants before treating the site based on more restricted use or unrestricted use. The immediate dismantling approach is accepted internationally as well as universally recognized as a safe approach that can be used to ensure effective decommissioning of nuclear power plants.
One of the advantages of applying the immediate dismantling approach is that it involves the participation of all existing staff of the plant. As such, these individuals provide the necessary information regarding the site, its equipment, and structures with regard to exposure to radioactive materials. In addition, the staff is useful during an immediate decommissioning of a power plant in that they provide historical information that could aid in successful decommissioning and cleaning up of the entire site.
In addition, the use of the immediate dismantling approach in the process of decommissioning any given plant ensures that there are no risks of degradation or even corrosion that occur after a plant is left for many years before it is dismantled and cleaned up. As such, this approach is very important for the elimination of future risks that would occur due to exposure to radiation, as well as saves the environment by removing potential damage on the land. The immediate dismantling approach of decommissioning is aimed at the conservation of the environment and prevention of harmful impacts on human health.
In spite of the advantages cited above as far as the use of the dismantling approach is concerned, there are also some drawbacks associated with this strategy. For example, a comparative analysis of the level of the radioactivity within a site’s reactor parts, it is evident that low radioactivity characterizes the deferred approach of dismantling a reactor than in the case of the immediate dismantling approach. The implication of this assertion is that there is a need for great care when carrying out the immediate dismantling. In addition, such an approach is likely to have more radioactive waste materials, which could have enormous impacts on the human health and the environment.
Deferred dismantling approach
The deferred dismantling approach of decommissioning refers to the process of plant’s decontamination that is carried out at a later date but after the removal of any radioactive fuel, draining of pipes, and the assurance that the given facility is safe. In other words, the deferred dismantling strategy is also referred to as the ‘safe enclosure.’ The period of deferment varies from plant to plant as it is based on a number of factors. However, in most of the cases, the period for which the reactors are left before decommissioning can be between ten and eighty years. An example of a reactor that was deferred before decommissioning is the case of the Netherlands’ Dodewaard reactor that despite being shut down in 1997, it has not been decommissioned yet.
There are several benefits of this approach to decommissioning. For example, the deferral period allows the radioactivity levels to go down as opposed in the case of the immediate dismantling. As such, the risks of harm to the environment and people during disposal are reduced. In spite of this, the deferred decommissioning risks the deterioration of various materials such as steel and concrete thereby making the process of decommissioning quite challenging. In addition, there is the risk of loss of knowledge regarding the history of the concerned site.
The entombment approach
An entombment is a decommissioning approach that is taken after the removal of all the previously used fuel from the reactor. Often, such a process is carried out by covering the plant’s structure in a material that is extremely resilient to allow for the decay process to take place. This approach is new in the literature of decommissioning, and it is only applicable in different scenarios such as in reactors that are located in remote areas, or in the case of small-sized reactors. As such, the entombment approach ensures that workers have minimal exposure to radioactive materials. This is attributable to the fact that the entombment approach involves minimal handling of materials that might be contaminated. In spite of this, the success of this approach requires careful management which includes long-term maintenance and monitoring of the site. In the US, several reactors have undergone the entombment process.
Phases of decommissioning
There may be various reasons for companies to shut down. Though some may be unknown, others may be such as inadequate staff, non-existent user activity, lack of sponsors, and loss of funding. Whatever the reason may be, companies ought to go through various phases to ensure compliance with the state and local regulations as well as those of the NRC (Bakari et al. 502). The plan to decommission should not remain secretive but should be known by major stakeholders as well as the technical team to offer help in case of systems failure. Some of the activities that ought to be planned in advance include but are not limited to the following; planning, approval of the decommissioning plan, offline service, service end, complete decommission and the removal of archived data. The phases are as discussed below;
Initial activities phase
In the event that a company that was licensed to produce nuclear energy terminate its operations, it is a requirement that the owner provides the concerned nuclear regulatory with notice of closure within a maximum of thirty days. After the permanent removal of radioactivity nuclear fuel from the reactor vessel, it is the responsibility of the owner to give a second certification in writing to the NRC. This submission becomes the authorization for the company to carry operations in the reactor such as loading fuel into its reactor vessel. As a result, the company withdraws its requirement of adherence to various necessities that may be essential only during the operation of the reactor (Benjamin 373). Still, in this phase, the licensee is given a period of two years to submit the same notice of permanent closure to the NRC. At this time, the document is already called a post shut-down decommissioning report of activities, and it serves to give progress of the decommissioning activities to the NRC.
Additionally, the report provides the NRC with the description of the estimated cost that the company is expecting to incur throughout the entire process. To ensure that the company is environmentally careful, the report must indicate the several measures that it might have taken to address the environmental issues associated with decommissioning. Therefore, it is recommended that a company conducts adequate research on the strategies used during previous decommissioning activities to protect the environment (Benjamin 373). If such details are missing, the licensee has the right to request from the approval of license amendments of all activities and subsequent submission to the NRC of the details on how the company is prepared to deal with any additional impacts of the process on the environment (Gin 243). The work of the NRC is then to ensure it publishes a receipt notice in the Federal Registrar. The aim of such submission is the availability for review by the members of the public. After the comments from the public members, the Commission then holds a public meeting to carry out a discussion regarding the aims of the licensee.
Major decommissioning activities
In this phase, the primary activities involved in decommissioning the plant kick off with or without the approval by the commission. This should be at least ninety days after the receipt of the decommissioning plan by the NRC. The decommissioning process involves activities that are aimed at ensuring that any traces of radioactive material are removed alongside the dismantling of all the facility’s structures. However, if the decommissioning activities start without approval from the commission, the process should not restrict any possible use of the released site.
In addition, the process must not lead to unreasonable assurance that there is the availability of sufficient funds for decommissioning or lead to negative impacts on the environment not mentioned in the research conducted by the company (Benjamin 373). If these requirements are not met by the decommissioning activities, the licensee ought to present a request for a license amendment, which gives an opportunity for the members of public to hear the proceedings. At the start, the company is allowed to commit three percent of its funds set aside for the decommissioning plan. The remaining amount is then availed three months later following the submission of the entire plan unless there are any issues raised by the nuclear regulatory body.
License termination activities
The license termination activities stage is the final phase that marks the last activities of the decommissioning plan. In this step, much work rests on the side of the company. For instance, the owner of the given plant to be decommissioned is required to explain their course of actions following the termination. Such course of action is presented in the form of a plan. Often, the termination plan should take into consideration various aspects such as the features of the facility, the approaches to be adopted in the process of dismantling the facility, any remedies necessary, as well as details on how to assess any possible radiation emissions.
The environmental report states any new information or noticeable changes on the environment associated with the final efforts to clean the area (Gin 243). However, most plans set their goals as ensuring the release of the site to unrestricted use by the public. This declaration is because they aim at maintaining the remaining materials below the set minimum by the NRC. As a result, they try to make it less than twenty-five-milligram exposure per year leading to no further control by any regulatory bodies including the NRC. On the other hand, some companies may release the land for restricted use. In such cases, the owner of any plant to be decommissioned is obliged to explain the projected use of the facility after decommissioning as well as offer any necessary documentation to back up such plans. Such information as provided is useful, as it is needed for release of the land for restricted use (Benjamin 373). To wind up the entire process, the owner of the plant is required to get approval from the nuclear regulatory commission regarding the permission of license amendment. This final assessment ensures that there is consistency in the process of license termination.
The last activities of decommissioning ensure that the entire process is successful. As a result, NRC has to carry out the final survey of the site. If the survey leads to approval and release of site and facility for use, it is the responsibility of NRC to issue a letter to terminate the company’s operation license.
Challenges of decommissioning
As noted above, the process of decommissioning a nuclear power plant is complex, labor, and capital intensive (Bakari et al. 502). For this reason, it is more likely that individuals engaging in any decommissioning activities face a number of challenges as highlighted below.
Resources and capacity
The process of decommissioning any facility dealing with nuclear and radioactive materials requires the concerned organizations and country to have the necessary resources and ability to carry out successful decontamination (Bayliss and Langley 7). As the need for the generation of nuclear power increases, various countries have adopted the necessary measures as far as the decommissioning of nuclear power plants is concerned (Benjamin 373). For example, the United States of America has successfully decommissioned over 1000 nuclear facilities. This is attributable to the availability of the necessary resources and capacity. Numerous other countries in the world do not have what it takes in terms of capacity and resources to decommission nuclear power plants. As it is, there is a lot of competition for decommissioning expertise, waste disposal facilities, as well as resources
The generation of nuclear power is subject to the public acceptance and so is the decommissioning of any nuclear power plant (Bayliss and Langley 7). This is attributable to the fact that the public can influence the immediate or deferred decommissioning of a power plant as well as the disposal of waste material. For example, people leaving next to a power plant might disagree with the approach used to decommission a given plant. Therefore, in cases where the decommissioning process conflicts with the interests of the public, challenges are bound to occur hence, affecting the efficiency of the entire process.
The problem of lack of public acceptance as far nuclear power operations are concerned, has greatly impacted on the delivery of such services. This can be attributed to the fact that some operators tend to fear to engage in public debate. Such lack of openness causes a lot of problems in the future due to the fact that adopting dialogue could solve the problems that might occur in the future as a result of the lack of the public’s acceptance.
Unpredictability of decommissioning requirements
The Fukushima nuclear power plant accident has adversely affected not only the generation of nuclear power in Japan but also in many other countries. For example, Germany closed its power generation on account of feasibility issues as far as the reliance of countries on nuclear power generation is concerned. In addition, following the Japan’s accident, a lot has changed regarding the requirements for nuclear power plant decommissioning. Such requirements revolve around the right infrastructure, funding, expertise, as well as the right skills (Benjamin 373). As such, in cases whereby regulators feel that the necessary requirements are not met, the decommissioning process is likely to be halted.
Costs and financing of decommissioning
Notably, the successful decommissioning process requires the use of the right resources and skilled individuals (Benjamin 373). However, such resources are expensive to acquire. In addition, the costs of decommissioning any power plant is influenced by a number of factors such as the site’s and reactor’s condition at the preferred time of decommissioning, the preferred use of the site in the future, the availability of the necessary facilities to enhance waste disposal, the facility’s location, and the size and type of the reactor (Bakari et al. 502). On the other hand, the cost of decommissioning is also affected by the preferred method of decommissioning. As such, in cases where the cost of decommissioning is extremely high, the chances are high that the process can be halted for some time.
The costs involved in the decommissioning process of any facility are significantly represented in the total costs of operating a nuclear power plant. However, such costs can also be worked from the total revenue collected from the given nuclear power plant over its lifetime. In spite of this, the decommissioning cost is subject to increase due to various factors. As evident in the case of decommissioning cost in the United Kingdom, the country has been experiencing a rising cost of decommissioning of power plants between 1970 and 2011. As such, it is evident that the cost of decommissioning can be a challenge especially in a case whereby the required cost exceeds the budgeted one. However, more experience as far as such costs are concerned provides the basis for which individuals can make explicit estimates regarding a decommissioning process.
The funding of the entire decommissioning process is the mandate of the plant’s owner (Benjamin 373). In spite of this, the government is required to ensure that the whole process follows the required principles and that there is enough money to cater for the decommissioning expenses. Based on this statement, it is evident that the lack of the right funding strategy can affect the decommissioning operations in any given plant (Gin 243). The owners of any given nuclear plant are required to pay a certain percentage of their income to the government (Bayliss and Langley 7). In most of the cases, such costs are unpredictably high, added to the fact that there is no clarity on the protection of the collected funds in the event of a financial crisis.
Risks associated with decommissioning
Since the process of decommissioning involves the handling of radioactive materials, there are various risks that are associated with this process. For example, the large-scale release of radioactivity is one of the significant risks that arise during the decommissioning process. This is attributable to the fact that the removal of the nuclear fuel releases a considerable amount of radioactivity to the environment (Bakari et al. 502). On the other hand, the draining of the tanks, as well as the plumbing, allows the release of solid radioactive materials. This type of waste is a bit friendly in terms of handling since its disposal can be easily controlled, monitored, and managed (Benjamin 373). In spite of this, it is evident that the nature of the entire process exposes staff of the plants to higher risks at the time of decommissioning than when the plant is operational.
In the process of operating a nuclear reactor, isotopes are produced that have adverse effects as they undergo the decay process (Bayliss and Langley 7). This is attributable to the harmful radiation that such materials release. However, to minimize the impacts of such processes, it is advisable for the materials to be stored safely for a chance to ensure that the levels of radioactivity have reduced significantly.
Workers in a nuclear power plant are exposed to radioactivity through a number of ways. For example, radioactive dust and gas are dispersed during the handling as well as cutting of equipment during decommissioning. As such, the necessary measures ought to be adopted to present the exposure of workers to such emissions.
According to the analysis presented, it is evident that decommissioning nuclear plant is more than the simple demolition of the plant. It is a complex process that involves systematically deconstructing a nuclear facility that has been contaminated. Due to the complexity of the entire process, a lot of care, money, resources, and regulations are necessary. Despite the fact that many countries are still young as far as decommissioning is concerned, the rate at which they are adopting the process is alarming. With the varied difference in terms of expertise among countries, the success of decommissioning activities varies from one country to the other. It was evident that there are a number of phases involved in decommissioning including the initial activities phase, the major decommissioning activities phase, and the license termination phase.
The review of the idea of decommissioning a nuclear power revealed that there are numerous benefits associated with this process. Considering the fact that the operations of nuclear power expose the environment and human beings to harmful radioactive materials, it suffices that decommissioning is an important process as far as the protection of human health and the conservation of the environment are concerned
It was evident that the decommissioning process is carried out for the purpose of reducing the possibility of harmful materials and emissions being released into the environment. For this reason, there is a need for better measures towards the effective decommissioning process.
While the decommissioning process is important its success is hindered by a number of factors including lack of enough capital to carry out effective decommissioning; lack of the right people with the necessary expertise, skills, and knowledge; lack of predictability in the requirements for decommissioning, as well as the lack of the public’s acceptance. For this reason, it is important for any decommissioning process to take into consideration the above factors for a high probability of being successful. Such objective can be achieved by ensuring that there is prior preparation for any future decommissioning.
The analysis revealed that various approaches of decommissioning could be applied and these include, immediate dismantling, entombment dismantling, and the deferred dismantling. The choice of any of these approaches is dictated by several factors capital and future use, included. However, it was evident that these approaches differ in terms of efficiency. For example, the immediate dismantling approach is advantageous in that it involves the participation of all existing staff of the plant hence, benefiting from the knowledge of the necessary information regarding the site, its equipment, and structures with regard to exposure to radioactive materials and any historical information that could be helpful during the decommissioning process.
However, the use of the dismantling approach is disadvantageous in terms of the volume of radioactive waste material released during the decomposition. As such, this process exposes people and the environment to high radioactivity. Considering the case of deferred dismantling approach, few radioactive waste materials are released to the environment. This is attributable to the fact that the deferral period allows the reduction of the radioactivity levels, thereby ensuring that there are no enormous impacts to the human health and the environment. For this reason, a comparative analysis of these two approaches shows that the deferred dismantling is efficient as far as the levels of radioactivity materials released to the environment are concerned. However, this approach faces a number of challenges such as the failure to have the necessary historical data to provide the appropriate guidelines.
The majority of decommissioning processes that have been completed so far have not had any harmful impacts to the environment or even to the human. In spite of this, a sufficient framework founded on legal aspects is needed to ensure that future decommissioning processes are successful and that there is reduced case of risks to human health as well as the environment. With such a framework in place, it becomes more likely that future processes are carried out according to the required guidelines hence, ensuring that the environment and the people involved are safe. The need for such a framework is instigated by the fact that there is an increase in the number of projects requiring decommissioning in the future.
There is a need for experience on the process of decommissioning in order to ensure that any challenges that are likely to occur are taken care of beforehand. In addition, such experience would trigger the development of better approaches to the challenges associated with decommissioning a nuclear plant. As such, the gained experience would not only develop better approaches but will enhance the reduction in the costs of decommissioning. For this reason, it is evident that effective management of nuclear power plant’s decommission process is needed for a chance to low the risks of radioactivity exposure to human health and the environment. Therefore, a nuclear regulatory oversight is required to oversee decisions about decommissioning as well as ensure that the necessary procedures and requirements are completely met.
In most of the cases, the decommissioning process can be ineffective and cause major problems especially in a case where hasty decisions are made. For this reason, there is a need for effective monitoring and management of decommissioning decisions as well as the entire process to avoid cases of harmful waste being released into the environment.
The decommissioning process exposes individuals and the environment to the large-scale release of radioactivity due to the fact that the removal of the nuclear fuel releases a considerable amount of radioactivity to the environment. In addition, the decommissioning process involves draining of the tanks within the facility, which releases radioactive materials to the environment. As such, there is the need for effective monitoring and control of the decommissioning process to reduce the exposure of staff of the plants and the environment to high levels of radioactivity at the time of decommissioning. For this reason, to minimize the impacts of such processes, it is advisable for the materials to be stored safely for a chance to ensure that the levels of radioactivity have reduced significantly.
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