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EU policy on decommissioning

The decommissioning of nuclear facilities and the management of their waste involves environmental, technical, social and financial responsibilities. It is important to clarify who will bear these different responsibilities for the decommissioning of existing nuclear installations up to the final stage. Until now, decommissioning projects have often been regulated on a case-by-case basis and on the initial build-up of experience in this field. Decommissioning strategies, therefore, differ widely between individual Member States.

Challenges in decommissioning

Decommissioning costs might represent up to 50% of the discounted investments made for the nuclear part of a power plant. They must be fully taken into account in generating costs. Sound financial provisions for decommissioning should reduce the potential burden on future generations. To ensure environmental protection adequate financial provisions need to be built up in good time.

Large volumes of material are produced during decommissioning and the environmental and financial costs of disposal of this material as waste can be very significant. Consequently, minimising waste is important in the management of these projects.

The final decommissioning of a nuclear installation as part of a global environmental restoration strategy requires adequate information to the public. Among others, information needs to be provided on what will happen to the waste, and decommissioning time-scales. Even if the existing decommissioning regulations and procedures protect workers and the general public, people still need to be informed of the preventive measures taken. Decommissioning operations and the related strategy decisions should be undertaken in a spirit of transparency and openness, with the involvement of the public and an understanding of their concerns.

Financing of decommissioning

In the context of the Commission Directive concerning the rules for the internal market in electricity , the importance of nuclear decommissioning funding schemes have been highlited within the EU. An inter-institutional statement in July 2003 set the ground for Community action, highlighting the need for adequate financial resources for decommissioning and waste management activities. Having published a first report pdf - 145 KB [145 KB] on this issue, the Commission adopted a Recommendation pdf on the management of financial resources in 2006 (since 2010 complemented by its Guide pdf - 102 KB [102 KB] ) in order to propose measures to address these concerns. A commitment was made by the Commission to publish a report on the use of decommissioning and waste management funds on a regular basis.

The second report pdf and its related working document pdf - 486 KB [486 KB] , published in 2007, compared EU nuclear operators and Member States funding practice with that detailed in the Commission Recommendation. Whereas the first report from 2004 was limited to power reactors, this report coverd all nuclear installations with an emphasis being placed on those which are at greatest risk should decommissioning funding be inadequately addressed.

The Commission focus lies on the adequacy of funding, its financial security and to ensure the funds are only used for the intended purposes. The benefits of harmonised decommissioning funding methodologies should be explored in the EU. The Commission addresses these issues with the support of the Decommissioning Funding Group (DFG) established under the Commission Recommendation. The DFG is an expert group and the only body in the European Union which brings together EU Member States and the Commission for common reflection and discussion of decommissioning funding issues.

On 19 July 2011 the Council adopted the Council Directive 2011/70/Euratom pdf which established a Community framework for the responsible and safe management of spent fuel and radioactive waste in Europe. Provisions of the directive make the purpose of the Recommendation (to ensure adequacy, availability, transparent management) legally binding.

In 2013 the Commission adopted its 3rd Communication pdf (accompanied by the working document pdf) to the European parliament and the Council aiming to present a comprehensive overview of the situation in the EU Member States. It does not yet analyse the consequences of the aforementioned directive but is, as in the past, based on the continuous work carried out by EU Member States and the Commission for the implementation of the Recommendation, in particular within the DFG. The report looks especially at the advances in the alignment of the national decommissioning and waste management financing regimes with the Commission Recommendation.

Decommissioning and the European Nuclear Safety Regulator Group (ENSREG, former High Level Group)

The Commission favours a suitable modern European legal framework for the use of nuclear energy to guarantee a high level of safety and to ensure the disposal of radioactive waste and the safe decommissioning of facilities at the end of their service lifetime. In this respect, a High Level Group, which later became the European Nuclear Safety Regulator Group (ENSREG), was set up with participation of senior regulators of all 27 Member States.

One of ENSREG's three working groups deals with the safety of the management of spent fuel and radioactive waste and decommissioning; this group will also closely monitor how the financing of the decommissioning and waste management continues. This will be undertaken notably on the basis of the monitoring of the works of the Decommissioning Funding Group (see above). Methods and criteria to evaluate funding need to be elaborated placed in a national framework and include a comprehensive review of the adequacy, the availability and the transparent management of the funding.

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