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Stuart Burns

Stuart Burns

Stuart is a writer for MetalMiner who operate the largest metals-related media site in the US according to third party ranking sites. With a preemptive…

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End Of Life Costs For Nuclear Power A Real Concern

Nuclear power stirs considerable controversy but we have broadly been a supporter of the technology in part because of its low emissions and running cost, but the industry had arguably their biggest challenge starkly highlighted this week in the International Energy Agency’s annual report.

Related: Three Possible Outcomes Of Iranian Nuclear Talks

By 2040, the agency said, almost 200 reactors are due to be shut down with considerable uncertainties over the decommissioning costs. An FT article quotes $100 billion for plant dismantling but the extent to which this is just the beginning is highlighted by a quote from Paul Dorfman of the Energy Institute at University College London who said, “The UK’s own decommissioning and waste disposal costs are estimated at £85 billion ($135 billion) alone.”

As the UK only has 16 reactors, according to the World Nuclear Association, the permanent disposal costs of high level nuclear waste clearly make up an even larger proportion of shut-down costs than the plant decommissioning. Governments the world over have consistently turned a blind eye to the issue of permanent and secure long-term storage of high level waste. The article quotes some 60 years after the first nuclear power plant started operation, no country has yet opened a permanent disposal facility for commercial high-level waste.

Related: And Another Key Approval For The Uranium Market…

New nuclear plants have to, as part of their planning approval, have in place a funded decommissioning strategy, but the waste, itself, invariably reverts to the government at the end of the process. If the industry has any future it has to encourage governments to find a solution to this issue. It is entirely possible that as the rate of decommissioning rises new technologies will be developed to condense low level waste to take up a minimum of space and to “lock” high waste into forms that can be safely stored for hundreds of years, costs will come down in the process but even so the issue remains, like the Ancient Mariner’s Albatross, a curse on the industry and on both public and investor enthusiasm for the technology.

By Stuart Burns

Source – www.agmetalminer.com

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  • Mark Love on November 17 2014 said:
    I think a big part of this problem is the result of the technology being used. Most of that long lived nuclear waste is simply unused fuel. And its only unused because of the limitations of PWR technology. I reckon FLiBe could have a LFTR prototype built in about 5 years that could start burning that unused fuel if they had the funding. And once MSRs are up and running, nuclear waste is simply not an issue.
  • Jonathan Cobb on November 17 2014 said:
    There's a big flaw in the central point of this article. The costs Dorfman quotes is for far more than the decommissioning of the UK's reactors. It includes plants used in the early research phase of the UK's nuclear development for example. So you can't get a waste cost on the basis of comparing the IEA figure with Dorfman's figure.

    As the IEA WEO report clearly stated, they estimate the cost of decommissioning around 200 of the oldest reactors in operation to be $100 billion. But that figure represents only around 1.5% of the overall generation cost. Far from the impression given that the $100 billion is some extraordinary amount, it is in line with previous estimates.

    As for waste treatment, compaction of low level waste is already in place, and locking high level liquid waste in safe forms is what is done with vitrification. For that matter used fuel itself, the high level waste produces from a once-through cycle, is chemically stable and compact and can be passively cooled after a few years.

    The albatross was leading the sailors to kinder waters. The moral of the story - don't take pot shots at a good thing.

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