German utility warns of ‘short’ decommissioning services market from 2020

European operators should procure reactor dismantling suppliers several years in advance and start activities immediately after shutdown to minimize costs during the licensed decommissioning phase, Jorg Klasen, Director of Decommissioning at EnBW, said at the Nuclear Decommissioning Conference Europe on May 24.

Europe is set to see decommissioning activity rise sharply in the coming years as ageing fleets and energy policy shifts combine with stubbornly-low wholesale power prices.

By 2020, some 150 European reactors will have reached a 40-year lifespan. Energy policies favoring renewable energy and national nuclear phase-out initiatives have put pressure on wholesale prices and accelerated reactor closure plans.

In Germany, the federal government has ordered all nuclear plants to close by 2022 and France also aims to cut the share of nuclear power from 75% of generation to 50% by 2025. At the same time, the UK is carrying out a multi-billion-pound project to decommission 12 nuclear power plant sites and many other countries are dismantling ageing reactors.

Forecast European reactor shutdowns (indicative)

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Source: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Nuclear operators have been urged to decommission plants immediately after shutdown to avoid higher costs associated with longer timelines and rising regulatory requirements over the long-term. Labor costs represent on average 44% of total nuclear decommissioning costs, according to a 2011 study by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).

German utility ENBW owns five nuclear reactors and the company has already contracted all the critical suppliers for its planned decommissioning work from 2020 to 2025, Klasen told the conference in Manchester.

This work includes the immediate dismantling of ENBW’s 1.5 GW Phillipsburg (KKP2) and 1.4 GW Neckarwestheim (GKN2) pressurized water reactors (PWRs) when they are shut down in 2019 and 2022, he said.

Operators must procure critical path decommissioning services early in the planning process as there is a limited supply of specialized decommissioning resources and demand is set to rise, Klasen said.

"The market is short...You should have in mind that the market is now already active for works after 2020," he said.

Post-shutdown priorities

ENBW has gained significant expertise from the ongoing decommissioning of its 357 MW Obrigheim 1 PWR, shut down in 2005, and post-shutdown activities at the 926 MW Philippsburg 1 (KKP1) and 840 MW Neckarwestheim-1 (GKN1) PWR units which closed in 2011.

ENBW started the decommissioning of its KKP1 and GKN1 reactors earlier this year after state authorities finally gave the go-ahead for full dismantling work to begin. Decommissioning is expected to take between 10 and 15 years.

These projects have shown that operators can reduce decommissioning costs by performing a number of activities directly after shutdown, even before the decommissioning license has been approved, Klasen said.

Such activities include the planning and preparation of system decontamination, insulation removal, pipe cutting downsizing auxiliary systems, among others.

"The main aim at the end of the to decrease radioactivity doses as fast as possible. By doing this, then you can decrease your [decommissioning phase] costs," he said.

ENBW is also investing "three digit million" euros in nuclear waste treatment facilities at the Philippsburg and Neckarwestheim sites in preparation for rising decommissioning activity, Klasen said.

"It's better to invest now for much cheaper [decommissioning] operating costs," he said.

The new facilities will consist of a residual material treatment center with storage areas, an on-site waste storage facility, and a shared social and infrastructure building. Construction is expected to be completed in 2018.

Under new federal legislation implemented in December 2016, German operators will transfer ownership of the immediate on-site storage and final disposal of radioactive waste to the government. In return, nuclear utilities EnBW, E.ON, RWE and Vattenfall pay a total of 23.6 billion euros into a state-owned decommissioning fund, which includes a 35.5% risk premium to avoid additional contributions.

New licensing models

In the U.S, there are currently 18 nuclear power plants being decommissioned and this is expected to increase following a spate of plant closure announcements due to low power prices.

As operators look to minimize decommissioning costs, new license transfer approaches and cutting-edge technologies look set to dramatically shorten dismantling and fuel transfer procedures.

Specialist decommissioning firm EnergySolutions currently operates 50% of active U.S. commercial decommissioning sites. The company is decommissioning the 2.2 GW Zion plant in Illinois and the 50 MW La Crosse nuclear plant in Wisconsin through a license stewardship arrangement whereby it assumes the assets and liabilities of the plant until project completion.

Areva and Northstar also recently announced a new joint decommissioning company which will be able to acquire the "complete and permanent" ownership of the decommissioning asset, including used nuclear fuel.

Growing project experience is shortening dismantling and decontamination (D&D) timelines and EnergySolutions' new decommissioning schedules based on its Zion project are "six and a half to seven years to tear down the plant, from start to finish," John Sauger, Executive Vice President and CNO, EnergySolutions, said in October.

Europe could soon see similar "Turnkey" decommissioning contracts as operators look to shorten project durations and optimize costs, Klasen said.

"We don't have these kinds of suppliers in Europe yet- not in Germany- but I propose that we will have these kinds of suppliers also in the future," he said.

Nuclear Energy Insider