The decommissioning of a nuclear installation, such as a power plant or research reactor, is the final step in its lifecycle. It involves activities from shutdown and removal of nuclear material to the environmental restoration of the site. The whole process is complex and typically takes 20 to 30 years to complete.
EU countries have the ultimate responsibility for the nuclear safety of nuclear installations, including decommissioning operations, as outlined in the Euratom Directives on nuclear safety and on management of spent fuel and radioactive waste. The directives mandate the highest safety standards for the operation of nuclear installations and for the management of the spent fuel and of the radioactive waste they generated.
Nuclear decommissioning assistance programmes
Following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, the so-called High Power Channel Type Reactors (RBMK) and other first-generation Soviet-designed nuclear reactors were not considered as safe as existing nuclear reactors in the EU. At the time of their accession to the EU, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Lithuania agreed to shut down such power plants:
- units 1 to 4 in Kozloduy, Bulgaria
- units 1 and 2 in Bohunice V1, Slovakia
- units 1 and 2 in Ignalina, Lithuania
In line with the accession agreements, the EU supports the nuclear decommissioning assistance programmes and provides financial support for the decommissioning of the concerned reactors, while maintaining the highest level of safety. Until 2013, the EU also co-financed projects to mitigate the consequences of shutting down the reactors, for example by replacing lost electricity generation capacity. From 2014 to 2020, financing concentrated on the safety challenges of the decommissioning.
Progress in the decommissioning programmes
The Kozloduy programme in Bulgaria has dismantled most auxiliary systems, including emptying of the turbine hall, and has advanced to the stage of dismantling reactor systems.
In parallel, the programme has delivered waste treatment key infrastructure, such as the plasma melting facility, a first-of-its-kind installation for the high-performance volume reduction of radioactive waste. The first operational campaign of volume reduction of radioactive waste started in 2018. Since then, the decommissioning operators have finished 3 successful operational campaigns using this state-of-the-art facility.
Moreover, construction works are underway for the national disposal facility, the low and intermediate level waste surface repository, which will receive large quantities of radioactive materials from the Kozloduy site.
The Bohunice programme in Slovakia is approaching the last steps of the decommissioning process. Dismantling of the large components of the reactor coolant system is underway, including the transportation of the reactor pressure vessels and other activated components to pools reconfigured as underwater size reduction workshops. Remotely operated cutting of the first reactor vessel started in 2020. The 12 steam generators, each made of 145 tonnes of steel, were transferred to the former turbine hall to be dismantled in a purpose-built dry-cutting workshop. The first steam generator was fully dismantled in June 2020.
The Ignalina programme in Lithuania, decommissioning of two 1 500 MW RBMK-type reactor units (same design as Chernobyl), is of an unprecedented nature. From 2016 to 2020, more than 98% of spent-fuel assemblies were removed from the reactor buildings and transferred to the purpose-built long-term safe storage facility. The transfer of spent fuel will be completed in 2022 and the removal and decontamination of equipment in the 800-meter long turbine hall was nearly completed by end 2020. Furthermore, the construction of the landfill facility for very low-level waste was completed in 2020. An ex-post evaluation of the 3 programmes for the period 2014-2020 will be published in 2022.
Through its budget, the EU continues to support these decommissioning programmes for 2021-2027, as defined in the Council Regulation (Euratom) 2021/100 and the Council Regulation (EU) 2021/101. These rules include a new explicit objective for the programmes to disseminate knowledge on decommissioning to all EU countries, led by the Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC).
The Commission manages these programmes by entrusting implementation tasks to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in Bulgaria, Slovakia and Lithuania, to the Central Project Management Agency in Lithuania, and to the Slovak Innovation and Energy Agency in Slovakia.
Group of experts
The Commission set up the Nuclear Backend Financial Aspects expert group (NuBaFA) in April 2021 (Decision C(2021) 2109) to help analyse financial aspects of nuclear decommissioning, spent fuel and radioactive waste management, such as cost estimations, financing mechanisms, securing of required funds and their management.
NuBaFA takes over from the former Decommissioning Funding Group (DFG), which was introduced by Commission Recommendation 2006/851/Euratom and is composed of representatives appointed by EU countries, with a high level of expertise in the financial aspects of nuclear decommissioning and spent fuel and radioactive waste management.
- Commission Implementing Decision C(2021)8857 on the financing of the Kozloduy programme and the adoption of the work programme for 2021-2022 (Annex 1, Annex 2 and Annex 3)
- Commission Implementing Decision C(2021)8846 on the financing of the Bohunice programme and the adoption of the work programme for 2021-2022 (Annex 1, Annex 2 and Annex 3)
- Commission Implementing Decision C(2021)9937 on the financing of the Ignalina programme and the adoption of the work programme for 2021-2022 (Annex 1, Annex 2 and Annex 3)
- Council Regulation (Euratom) 2021/100 establishing a dedicated financial programme for the decommissioning of nuclear facilities and the management of radioactive waste
- Council Regulation (EU) 2021/101 establishing the nuclear decommissioning assistance programme of the Ignalina nuclear power plant in Lithuania
- Commission report on the implementation of the work under the nuclear decommissioning assistance programme to Bulgaria, Slovakia and Lithuania in 2020 and previous years (COM/2021/235 final)
- Commission report on the implementation of the work under the nuclear decommissioning assistance programme to Bulgaria, Slovakia and Lithuania in 2019 and previous years (COM/2020/82 final)
- Mid-term evaluation on nuclear decommissioning assistance programmes to Bulgaria, Lithuania and Slovakia (COM(2018)468)
- International Structure for Decommissioning Costing (ISDC) of Nuclear Installations (2012)
- Commission recommendation on decommissioning funding (2006/851/Euratom)