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 lengthy (up to 30 years), and it is carried out with the highest safety standards.
Euratom Directives on nuclear safety and on management of spent fuel and radioactive waste establish the national and ultimate responsibility of Member States for the nuclear safety of nuclear installations, including decommissioning operations, and for safe management of the spent fuel and radioactive waste generated in them.
Recommendations on decommissioning funds
The European Commission assists the Member States in addressing issues related to funding of nuclear decommissioning through a group of experts known as the Decommissioning Funding Group (DFG).
The role of these experts is to:
- provide up-to-date knowledge on decommissioning costs and the management of funding
- explore ways for further co-operation and harmonisation of nuclear decommissioning at European level
Currently more than 90 nuclear reactors have been permanently shut down in the EU, and several more will be shut down in the next decade. Similarly, several other facilities of the nuclear fuel cycle are going to be shut down and will need to be decommissioned.
Nuclear decommissioning programmes
Following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, the EU decided that so-called High Power Channel Type Reactors (RBMK) and other first-generation Soviet-designed nuclear reactors would need to be shut down. At the time of their accession to the EU, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Slovakia agreed to shut down reactors at the sites of Kozloduy, Ignalina and Bohunice respectively.
The EU launched the nuclear decommissioning assistance programmes in order to fulfil the accession agreements. In the initial years and until 2013, the EU co-financed decommissioning activities related to safe removal of radioactive materials as well as flanking actions, such as projects to mitigate the consequences of shutting down the reactors (e.g. replacement for lost electricity generation capacity) and to mitigate social consequences (such as lost employment). As of 2014 and gradually afterwards the dedicated EU co-financing has been concentrated on safety challenges of the decommissioning, while other actions can be financed by other sources or instruments.
The Commission manages these programmes by entrusting implementation tasks to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in all three Member States, to the Central Project Management Agency in Lithuania, and to the Slovak Innovation and Energy Agency in Slovakia.
For the future, the Commission has proposed to continue supporting these programmes also in the period 2021-2027 with two distinguished proposals:
- to assist Lithuania in implementing the Ignalina nuclear power plant decommissioning, with specific emphasis on managing the radiological safety challenges, under the provisions of the 2003 Act of Accession, and in particular Article 3 of Protocol No 4 (COM(2018) 466 final)
- to assist Bulgaria and Slovakia in implementing the Kozloduy decommissioning programme (Bulgaria) and the Bohunice decommissioning programme (Slovakia), and to support the Joint Research Center (JRC) decommissioning and waste management programme (COM (2018) 467)
With this proposal the Commission intends to set simpler and more flexible instruments to provide EU funds for decommissioning and waste management, to support synergies, and to deliver a safer Union. These programmes have a high potential for creating EU added value through broad dissemination to all EU Member States of knowledge thereby generated on nuclear decommissioning.