Paul Brown: There are not many jobs you could take on at the beginning of your working life and know they would still be nowhere near completed by the time you retired. But decommissioning the world’s nuclear power plants is one of them. The estimates of the amounts of money involved in keeping old nuclear plants safe and dismantling them are so large that they are almost beyond comprehension − and unlikely to be accurate anyway. The fact is that the problems are so difficult and so liable to complications that delays and costs are bound to escalate. That is probably why many of the large engineering and nuclear companies have lost interest in building new nuclear reactors and, instead, are concentrating on getting contracts to take the old plants to pieces. It is a potential market growing at enormous pace because dozens of reactors are nearing the end of their lifetimes. But dismantling nuclear power plants and making them safe is no easy task. Nuclear consultant Pete Wilkinson, who used to advise the UK government, says: “People will be grappling with hundreds of technical and safety problems that have not been solved and programmes that are not adequately funded. Finding and building a repository for this nuclear waste is a huge engineering project that will go on for centuries.” The UK government last week estimated the clean-up cost of just one site −Sellafield, in northwest England − at £88 billion. The government is already spending about £2 billion a year trying to tackle just some of the problems at the site, and that sum is bound to rise. In Manchester, 350 of the world’s top executives from companies involved in the industry are meeting on 24 and 25 May at the Nuclear Decommissioning and Waste Management Conference Europe to discuss Sellafield and the dozens of other nuclear waste sites across the continent. Among the topics discussed will be the European Commission’s estimate of a shortfall of €118 billion in funds for nuclear waste management. This money will have to be found by governments in order to keep their populations safe. Decommissioning is also becoming a problem in the US, where nuclear power plants are closing because they cannot compete any longer with renewable energy. The US, like the UK, France, Germany and Japan, has also still to solve the problem of what to do with long-lived nuclear waste, which remains dangerous for at least 100,000 years. So finding somewhere safe to put it, without the radiation leaking out and contaminating future generations, is a tall order.
Climate News Network 8th May 2017 read more »