Quick decommissioning in Germany

03 August 2012

Two of the German reactors ordered to shut after Fukushima will be dismantled as soon as possible. EnBW has applied for permission to do the work and said it has more than enough funds set aside.

Neckarwestheim 1 and Philippsburg 1 were both among the older reactor units that Chancellor Angela Merkel forced to close early in the week of the Fukushima accident in March 2011. Built in 1976 and 1981 respectively, their operation had been set to continue until 2017 and 2026. Merkel's move, however, brought their power generation careers to an abrupt end.
Normal practice in nuclear decommissioning allows time for radioactive decay before the main components and buildings are tackled. Sometimes a reactor building is sealed up and put in a 'safe storage' mode to allow radioactive decay to the point that the work can take place under normal industrial regulation rather than nuclear regulation. This kind of postponement makes the work easier and cheaper to carry out while also allowing more time for decommissioning funds to grow.

During their lifetimes, Neckarwestheim 1 and Philippsburg 1 produced over 186 and 187 billion kWh of electricity respectively. Had Germany stuck to its 2010 negotiated policy, they would have probably produced a further 31 billion and 89 billion kWh. Despite this loss of income and corresponding payments to its decommissioning fund, EnBW said it still has more than enough money for decommissioning and waste disposal.

Instead of following this strategy, EnBW has opted to complete the work as soon as possible. "We are taking note of our responsibility and not putting off the issue of decommissioning work any longer," said Jorg Michels of EnKK, the company that operates the plants for EnBW. "With direct decommissioning we are achieving clarity for the public, employees and our business partners."

The company has applied to the Ministry for Environment, Climate Protection and the Energy Sector in home state Baden-Wurtemburg for approval to carry out the decommissioning. It expects to receive this in two years, during which time it will complete some required environmental reviews and prepare facilities to handle the various types of wastes. The company's aims, it said, would be to avoid creating unnecessary waste and to reduce the amounts of waste that it cannot avoid creating.

As in most countries, nuclear power operators in Germany are required to set aside funds for the decommissioning of their power plants. EnBW said it had "met this obligation and acquired reserves during operation." The money will "cover the corresponding costs for decommissioning as well as disposal of fuel elements and operational waste through to final disposal," it said, noting it had considered various future possiblities in these areas.

Other German utilities hit by Merkel's shutdown decision want to recover their additional costs from the government - including those from bringing forward decommissioning. EnBW has taken some part in the legal action, but explained recently that it would not challenge the policy on the basis of the German constitution. This is because EnBW is 98% owned by the public and its contention would be inadmissable, it said, noting that it hoped and expected success for the other utilities.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News