As expensive as nuclear power plants are to build, safely shutting them down will add hundreds of billions, potentially trillions more to the facilities’ lifetime costs, Climate News Network reports.
Sixteen European nations alone face a €253-billion (C$364-billion) cost to dispose of nuclear plant demolition waste. At one of the United Kingdom’s oldest nuclear stations, at Sellafield, authorities are spending £2 billion (C$3.6 billion) per year to contain hazards from nuclear waste in 240 buildings on the site.
The UK has a dozen other mothballed nuclear sites awaiting clean-up, Climate News notes. France has 58 reactors to dismantle. Worldwide, at least 200 reactors are scheduled to be retired by 2025.
“Add to the European nuclear legacy the dozens of old nuclear power stations in North America, Japan, Russia, and central Asia,” the outlet observes, “and nuclear decommissioning could already be classed as one of the biggest industries in the world, and it can only grow.”
Among the hurdles facing decommissioning are a shortage of trained personnel, and of places to put waste. “All over the world, governments have tried and failed to find sites where they can store radioactive waste that has arisen from nuclear weapons programs, nuclear submarine propulsion, and the civil nuclear industry,” notes founding editor Paul Brown. “The waste needs to be isolated from human beings for as much as 250,000 years to make it safe.”
At least one group is urging the prompt retirement, rather than refurbishing of Canada’s oldest nuclear generating complex, the 45-year-old Pickering station just east of Toronto. The plant’s operator, Ontario Power Generation, to wants to keep it running until 2024. But the Ontario Clean Air Alliance argues the province would be better off to begin dismantling the plant as soon as its current licence runs out in 2018—arguing advantages including some 16,000 person-years of employment in decommissioning the complex’s six reactors.