European decommissioning activity to rise 8% per year

The number of Decontamination and Decommissioning (D&D) projects in Europe is expected to rise 8% per year in the coming decade as low power prices dent operating profits and plants reach end of lifespans, Jorg Klasen, Director Nuclear Decommissioning Services at German operator EnBW Kernkraft, said.

Power price pressures and national policy shifts have accelerated the number of decommissioning projects in recent years, and put pressure on some of Europe's largest utilities.

Speaking at Nuclear Energy Insider's Nuclear Decommissioning Conference Europe conference on May 31, Klasen said the number of nuclear power plants in decommissioning is expected to rise from 76 in 2015 to around 110 in 2020.

Falling European wholesale power prices have put smaller nuclear power stations at particular risk of closure, Klasen said.

"These will be the first to shut down from a financial perspective," he said.

Following the Fukushima disaster in 2011, Chancellor Angela Merkel's government decided to shut all of Germany's nuclear power plants by 2022. The federal government's decision meant operators had to swiftly shift from lifespan extension strategies to planning and executing decommissioning work, Klasen said.

"We have a lot of plants shut down already in Germany, most of them are directly in decommissioning, others are in preparation," he noted.

ENBW operates nuclear plants in the southern state of Baden-Wurttemberg and is currently executing decommissioning work on its 357 MW Obrigheim pressurized water reactor which stopped operations in 2005. ENBW is also carrying out post-operation activities at its 926 MW Phillipsburg 1 and 840 MW Neckarwestheim 1 plants, which stopped operations in 2011. The company plans to stop operations of the 1.5 GW Phillipsburg 2 and 1.4 GW Neckarwestheim 2 plants in 2019 and 2022, respectively.

Nuclear power firms are focusing on cost optimization amid difficult market conditions and the Nuclear Decommissioning Conference Europe on May 31-June 1 saw operators from a number of countries share their experience on decommissioning projects.

The large costs involved with decommissioning have prompted Germany’s nuclear firms to adapt methods used on earlier projects and introduce automated equipment to curb labor costs.

Germany is technically well prepared for the upcoming surge in decommissioning work and the next phase will see firms adapt trusted technology for multiple sites while expanding automation and logistics expertise.

While European projects can learn from the decommissioning work which has already taken place in Germany, there are some challenges which are specific to the German market, Klasen noted.

Germany has a complex permission process for decommissioning projects, operators must work with federal and state level governments, and there are no final waste depositories in place. Delayed federal decisions on cost provisions are also impacting plans to dismantle and decommission the plants.

Nuclear Energy Insider


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