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Decommissioning of a nuclear power plant

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Many countries have reserved billions of Euros for decommissioning purposes. The United Kingdom is a good example. In this article we look at the work involved in the decommissioning of a nuclear power plant.

Decommissioning work can be divided into four categories:

  • preparatory work
  • decommissioning
  • final disposal
  • support functions

Preparatory work

  • The preparatory phase begins several years before the plant is closed. It includes, among others, the following phases:
  • detailed planning of decommissioning
  • transporting the spent nuclear fuel from the reactors and the power plant away from the site
  • removing radioactive liquids and other dangerous substances from the systems, pipelines and components
  • preparing the nuclear plant's systems (e.g. electric, ventilation and sewers) for decommissioning
  • removing flammable material to reduce the risk of a fire
  • rinsing and decontamination of systems
  • final characterisation of the amount of waste in the spaces that will be demolished (final estimate of the amount and type of radioactive materials)
  • preparing the spaces to be demolished for demolition, e.g. preparing the electric, ventilation and sewer system for demolition, removing barriers so the dismantled components can be transported, arranging intermediate storage, providing activity measurement and radiation protection functions
  • getting demolition work permits from the authorities


After the preparatory phase, the actual decommissioning phase begins. It involves:

  • dismantling contaminated systems
  • dismantling the activated inner parts of the reactor, the pressure vessel and the biological shield
  • if necessary, the demolition of non-activated buildings and systems
  • packaging waste for disposal
  • measuring the activity of the waste
  • transporting the waste to the repository or to other storage facilities

Final disposal

The third phase of the decommissioning process is final disposal. This stage involves:

  • design work, getting permits and building the repositories for the decommissioning waste
  • transporting and placing the waste into the repository
  • sealing the repository

Support functions

In addition to the process described above, decommissioning requires various support functions during each of the three phases. The support functions include, for example:

  • radiation measurements and monitoring
  • cleaning
  • scaffolding work
  • lifting and transporting waste
  • sampling, analysis and laboratory services
  • management and administrative services for the decommissioning project

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