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Meeting the Challenge of Future Nuclear Decommissioning through Education and Training

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Participants of an IAEA course on decommissioning observing loading-unloading of jet-abrasive decontamination unit at the Bohunice Nuclear Power Plant in Slovakia, 2014. (Photo: JAVYS)

Availability of qualified and trained personnel is critical to the success of decommissioning programmes, experts agreed at an event on the sidelines of the IAEA’s 61st General Conference yesterday. 

Participants discussed options and initiatives for enhancing education, training and knowledge management in nuclear decommissioning. The outcomes of the discussion will assist experts worldwide in developing their plans and provide orientation of future IAEA work, including options for more coordinated training activities at regional level.

“Many nuclear facilities will be retired from service over the next few decades. These will need to be decommissioned safely and effectively, and the sites made available for new uses, including construction of new nuclear facilities in some countries,” said Mikhail Chudakov, Deputy Director General and Head of the IAEA Department of Nuclear Energy. “Ensuring the availability of skilled human resources to implement existing and upcoming decommissioning work is a central issue to be addressed in all countries where such facilities are located.”

A significant number of the world’s older nuclear facilities are located on the territory of the European Union. The European Commission, with support from the IAEA, has been encouraging greater collaboration between its Member States on education and training for decommissioning.

“Decommissioning is a normal part of the life cycle of nuclear installations, just as for other industrial facilities,” said Gerassimos Thomas, Deputy Director General of the Commission’s Directorate General for Energy. “Engendering public confidence in the industry requires that this step be undertaken as soon as reasonably possible after the shutdown of a plant.”

“There is also an ethical dimension: the generation that benefitted from the power generated by these facilities should take responsibility for the final stage of their life cycle rather than pass this on to a future generation,” he added.

New agreement signed

The IAEA and the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission signed Practical Arrangements yesterday to formalize cooperation on training for decommissioning and environmental remediation. This cooperation will take place particularly in the context of the European Learning Initiatives for Nuclear Decommissioning and Environmental Remediation (ELINDER) coordinated by the European Commission. The initiative was launched in 2016 and involves a consortium of 13 European organizations that already provide decommissioning training at national level. The training events to be delivered under the programme are currently being developed and will be delivered from 2018 to 2020.

The IAEA participated in the formulation of the programme concept and will provide practical support to the ELINDER project through its expert networks, training tools and its Technical Cooperation Programme.

More than 150 nuclear power reactors have been permanently shut down or are undergoing decommissioning. More than half of the 448 nuclear power reactors currently in operation are over 30 years old. Although many of these will continue to operate safely for several more years, several will also be retired from service within the next two decades. In addition, more than 100 research reactors and critical assemblies, and similar numbers of fuel cycle facilities, have been permanently shut down or are already undergoing decommissioning.

Vladimir Šucha, Director General of the Commission’s Joint Research Centre (left) and Mikhail Chudakov, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy, signing Practical Arrangements on training in decommissioning and environmental remediation, September 2017. (Photo: IAEA)

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