Mention “high costs,” “financing” and “safety” in the same sentence as “commercial nuclear power plants,” and most people think of the multi-billion-dollar construction or operational phase of these facilities, which provide 20 percent of the domestic electric supply. Those concerns, however, are now emerging as aging nuclear power plants reach retirement age, and electric utilities confront the task of deconstruction, or decommissioning, nuclear power stations. That’s the topic of the cover story in the current edition of Chemical & Engineering News, the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society.
In the article, Jeff Johnson, C&EN senior correspondent, explains that a wave of nuclear power station retirements may be on the horizon. The average age of the 104 nukes in the United States, for instance, is 34 years — only a few years short of and approaching their design life of 40 years. Almost 30 U.S. commercial and research reactors already have started decommissioning.
The article describes why decommissioning is a long, complex, costly process, with $400 million regarded as the bargain basement price tag for cleaning up a single reactor. It includes an informative sidebar, “Anatomy of a Decommissioning,” describing why decommissioning is a big-ticket item, with special technologies and personnel needed for a safe retirement. Indeed, the coming wave of retirements likely will foster emergency of a new industry devoted to decommissioning.