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Decommissioning Nuclear Facilities

Decommissioning of  Nuclear Facilities

Cover of a brochure distributed during the launch of the International Decommissioning Network (IDN) initiative at the 51st IAEA General Conference.

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The IAEA 51st General Conference was the setting for the launch of a new international initiative aimed at bolstering cooperation between organizations involved in the decommissioning of nuclear installations. Called the International Decommissioning Network (IDN), the initiative will act as a conduit for the flow of skills and information from those Member States with proven decommissioning expertise to those facing the challenge for the first time or whose programmes are constrained by lack of resources.

Around the world more than 350 nuclear installations - including research and medical as well as power reactors - are ageing and approaching the end of their operational life-span. Some have already been shut down and await the complicated and costly task of decommissioning, a process by which facilities are cleared of industrial and radioactive contamination so that they may safely be used for other purposes.

"Many of these facilities are small and widely distributed geographically," says Paul Dinner of the IAEA´s Waste Technology Section. "In most developing Member States, decommissioning strategies need to be tailored to cope with limited experience, infrastructure and funding."

The establishment of the IDN stemmed from the recommendations of a December 2006 IAEA International Conference in Athens, Greece, and builds on experience gained from the successful Network of Centres of Excellence for training and development in waste disposal technologies, formed in 2001. A collaborative initiative between the IAEA´s departments of Nuclear Energy, Nuclear Safety and Security, and Technical Cooperation, the IDN will be open to all Members States, and be of specific interest to those engaged in, or actively planning, decommissioning.

A number of Member States with mature decommissioning programmes have already expressed interest in sharing their knowledge with less advanced countries. In some cases, facilities undergoing decommissioning will serve as demonstration models for on-site training. Initially, the IDN will focus on facilities such as research reactors where the needs are judged to be substantial and where an impact can be made within a reasonable timescale.

"The Network also has the potential to help Member States enhance their overall technical practices and management skills. This is likely to be very helpful to those seeking to expand their range of atomic energy applications," says Paul Dinner.

In summary, the International Decommissioning Network will:

  • Promote the sharing of practical and effective decommissioning experience;
  • Leverage IAEA decommissioning support activities to all interested parties; and
  • Lead to the safe, economic and timely dismantlement of disused nuclear facilities.

A technical meeting, to be held at the IAEA on 29-31 October, will finalize details and establish the 2008/2009 programme of work for the IDN.