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IAEA Workshop Highlights Novel Trends in Decommissioning


The site of the former Yankee Rowe Nuclear Power Station, in Massachusetts, USA, which operated from 1960 to 1992. It is one of the 17 nuclear power reactors that have been fully decommissioned. As of 31 December 2018, 173 power reactors have been permanently shut down across the world. (Photo: Yankee Rowe)

Decommissioning of nuclear power plants and other nuclear facilities based on sustainability and circular economy principles can bring great benefits, including less waste, lower costs and reduced risk of delays. It is also a great way to engage stakeholders, agreed experts at a recent International Workshop on Application of Sustainability and Circular Economy Principles to Nuclear Decommissioning. The workshop was organized by the IAEA in Rome, Italy, and was hosted by Sogin, the state-owned company responsible for Italy’s decommissioning and radioactive waste management programme.

“Recycling is already well established in decommissioning work, and the principles of circular economy are opening a new dimension,” said Christophe Xerri, Director of the IAEA’s Division of Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Technology. “Preparation for and implementation of decommissioning of nuclear facilities can benefit from good practices, technologies and circular economy experience coming from non-nuclear industries.”

Circular economy is a socio-economic concept aimed at minimizing waste and making the most of resources. This approach seeks to find new uses for assets and their components consistent with commercial and sustainable objectives.

“Decommissioning of nuclear power plants no longer in use as well as of other industrial facilities is also a matter of ethics,” added Xerri. “We have built and used those facilities for the benefit of our societies. But we should make sure that we clean them up for the generations to come.”

Innovation is most often associated with new technologies. But innovation also means bringing new thinking into a well-established process and decommissioning is no exception.

Kristina Gillin, Principal Consultant at Lloyd’s Register told attendees that most of the world’s reactors were built before the concept of sustainable development was conceived. “This workshop is an important step towards incorporating sustainability principles into the decommissioning process in a way that has potential to benefit both the industry and society at large.”

Luca Desiata, the CEO of Sogin, said: “We are very satisfied to continue the collaboration with the IAEA. The topic of this year, circular economy, is one of the pillars of Sogin Academy, which aims to become a reference centre for training and development in the nuclear decommissioning industry.”

During the workshop from 18 to 21 June 2019, experts from France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom discussed ways of effectively addressing circular economy principles in decommissioning and waste management and presented several examples and case studies. They underlined the need for the post-decommissioning future of the site to be considered as the integral part of the decommissioning planning and implementation.

The workshop included an overview of the European and national regulatory frameworks, taking into account green engineering and Green Public Procurement (see below) rules regarding circular economy, analysis of the flow and management of the reusable or recyclable materials arising from decommissioning activities, assessment of the actual practice of recycling and reuse, identification of the obstacles to recovering scrap materials arising from decommissioning, and waste avoidance approaches.

The IAEA plans to expand its scope of activities in this field.

Green Public Procurement, Green Engineering

Green Public Procurement is a process whereby public authorities seek to procure goods, services and works with a reduced environmental impact throughout their life cycle when compared to goods, services and works with the same primary function that would otherwise be procured.

Green engineering is the design, commercialization, and use of processes and products that minimize pollution, promote sustainability, and protect human health without sacrificing economic viability and efficiency.

Experts from France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom discussed ways of effectively addressing circular economy principles in decommissioning and waste management, in Rome, Italy, from 18 to 21 June 2019. (Photo: IAEA)


As of 31 December 2018, 173 power reactors have been permanently shut down across the world. Of those, 17 reactors have been fully decommissioned, while more are approaching the final stages of decommissioning. More than 150 fuel cycle facilities have been permanently shut down or are undergoing decommissioning and close to 130 have been decommissioned. Over 120 research reactors have been shut down or are undergoing decommissioning and over 440 research reactors have been fully decommissioned.

The IAEA assists its Member States in planning and the decommissioning of nuclear installations and other facilities utilizing radioactive material in accordance with the IAEA Safety Standards. It also supports exchange of knowledge and good practices as well as technical information on decommissioning. Its eLearning platform contains lectures on spent fuel and radioactive waste management, decommissioning and environmental remediation.

The IAEA’s International Decommissioning Network (IDN) provides a forum for interaction and collaboration between professionals involved in decommissioning activities. Sharing of experiences and knowledge from decommissioning projects is facilitated through a wiki-based information resource maintained by the IDN. An additional service to Member States concerns peer review and advisory services, such as ARTEMIS, providing expert reviews of decommissioning programmes, of radioactive waste and spent fuel management programmes, and of environmental remediation programmes.

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