According to an analysis presented to an international panel of experts, the cost of UK nuclear waste decommissioning in the 20th century could rise to £ 260 billion as aging and decaying sites present growing challenges.
As the government pursues nuclear power with the promise of a new generation of reactors, the cost of safely cleaning up the waste from previous generations of power plants is skyrocketing.
The degradation of nuclear plants presents increasingly dangerous and challenging problems. According to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, aging electrical equipment and systems at Sellafield, which is storing much of the country’s nuclear waste and is one of the most dangerous sites in the world, are increasing the risk of fire. They require increasing maintenance and present an increasing risk. Last October, a faulty lighting system caused a fire at a Sellafield facility that led to its closure for several weeks.
The analysis by Stephen Thomas, a professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich, estimates that the total bill for decommissioning the UK’s nuclear waste mountain will rise to £ 260 billion.
Thomas told a conference of international experts that the cost of decommissioning Sellafield has increased by £ 110 billion, according to Freedom of Information calls.
Other sites in need of decommissioning are the 11 Magnox power plants, built between the 1950s and 1970s, including Dungeness A in Kent, Hinkley Point A in Somerset and Trawsfynydd in North Wales, and seven advanced gas-cooled reactors built in the 1990s, including Dungeness B, which closed last year, Hinkley Point B and Heysham 1 and 2 in Lancashire.
The deterioration of one of the Magnox stations, Trawsfynydd, which closed in 1991, is such that substantial work is required to make it safe, according to the NDA. “Work that should therefore be canceled to complete the decommissioning of the reactor,” the agency said.
Thomas told the International Nuclear Risk Assessment Group that similar problems are expected at other Magnox sites. The timetable for decommissioning old nuclear power plants has been abandoned, with no new timetable yet published.
The Nuclear Waste Service said the 85-year decommissioning deferral from closure, which was the previous policy, is not suitable for all reactors due to their different ages and physical conditions. The decommissioning of some Magnox stations will have to be anticipated, the NWS said.
Attempts to expedite the decommissioning would only add to the growing bill, said Thomas, who he believes would have increased to 34 billion pounds.
In 2005, the cost of dismantling and disposing of radioactive waste from nuclear power plants built in the 1950s, 1970s and 1990s was estimated at £ 51 billion.
Last year the NDA’s estimates jumped to £ 131 billion and its latest annual report stated that £ 149 billion was needed to pay the compensation. But Thomas said the cost increase meant the total bill was on track to reach £ 260 billion.
Part of the staggering increase is the cost of building a large underground nuclear waste landfill or geological repository facility (GDF) to safely store the 700,000 cubic meters of radioactive waste – about the volume of 6,000 double-decker buses – from the country’s past nuclear program.
The mammoth engineering project was initially expected to cost £ 11 billion, but the bill is now estimated to run up to £ 53 billion due to uncertainty about the site’s location and the need to provide space for an unspecified amount. of waste from the new generation of nuclear reactors that the government wants to build.
Four areas of the country are under consideration for the GDF but no decision has yet been made on where it will be located.
“While we are clear about the current waste legacy that already exists, a GDF should manage additional waste from new facilities under development,” said NWService. “The actual cost will depend on the number of new nuclear projects the UK develops in the future and any additional waste from those stations.”
Cleaning up past nuclear waste will take more than 100 years, the NDA said. Highlighting the challenges of degrading and dangerous structures, the authority said in its annual report that robots and drones are increasingly being used to carry out on-site inspections.