Overview of decommissioning projects in Germany
Every decommissioning project is unique. The project schedule, the choice of decommissioning strategy and many other conditions (e.g. funding) depend to a large extent on the type of facility and are decided by the plant’s licence holder:
- Power reactors and uranium enrichment and fuel fabrication facilities are commercial plants and belong to the power utilities and companies operating in this sector.
- Research reactors, prototype reactors for power generation and prototype nuclear fuel cycle facilities are based at research centres or universities and are publicly funded.
- The decommissioning of Greifswald and Rheinsberg nuclear power plants in eastern Germany, formerly the German Democratic Republic, is funded from the federal budget.
The map provides an overview of the various plants – power, prototype and research reactors and nuclear fuel cycle facilities – which are undergoing decommissioning in Germany in 2017 or which have already been fully dismantled.
Facilities which have been permanently shut down but have not yet been granted decommissioning licences are not shown.
Decommissioning by facility type
Power and prototype reactors
Three nuclear reactors have been fully dismantled:
- Niederaichbach nuclear power plant (KKN)
- Grosswelzheim superheated steam reactor (HDR)
- Kahl experimental nuclear power plant (VAK).
The first two are prototype reactors, whose development was not pursued.
Kahl experimental nuclear power plant was the first nuclear power plant built in Germany. After more than 25 years of operation, it was permanently shut down in 1985. Components and buildings were decontaminated and fully dismantled, and the site was cleared for unrestricted use.
Experience has shown that the decommissioning of a power or prototype reactor takes at least 10 to 20 years.
Decommissioning of research reactors is based on the same principles as nuclear power plant decommissioning. The licensing procedure and the decontamination, disassembly and waste conditioning techniques used are very similar. However, the facility size and the radioactive inventory are significantly smaller in the case of a research reactor compared to a nuclear power plant.
As research reactors are smaller, technical dismantling often takes less time than is the case with larger power reactors.
Nuclear fuel cycle facilities
At Hanau, several fuel element fabrication plants were shut down, dismantled and released from regulatory control in the 1980s and 1990s. The former Karlsruhe Nuclear Research Center (now Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) Campus North) ran Karlsruhe Pilot Reprocessing Plant (WAK) from 1971 until reprocessing operations ceased in 1990. The dismantling of this facility poses particularly complex challenges. In 2009-2010, the high-level liquid waste (HLLW) produced during the plant’s operation was conditioned by vitrification in a new purpose-built facility on the WAK site. This Karlsruhe Vitrification Facility (VEK) was later shut down and is part of the WAK dismantling project.
The licensing procedure is similar to that applicable to nuclear power plant decommissioning. The operator plans to have fully completed the dismantling of the facility (including VEK) by the end of the 2020s.
From a technical perspective, the projects are broadly similar to the decommissioning of nuclear reactors, varying solely on points of details. A key difference is that nuclear fuel cycle facilities are in some cases heavily contaminated with alpha-emitting radionuclides from mechanical and chemical processing of nuclear fuel during operation. Different decontamination and dismantling techniques and a different radiation protection regime for workers are therefore required.