During this year's 56th IAEA General Conference, the IAEA's Department of Nuclear Energy, in conjunction with the Trade and Investment branch of the United Kingdom Embassy, held a panel discussion on ways to break down the barriers that prevent the implementation of decommissioning and remediation programmes worldwide. Paricipating in the discussion were decommissioning and remediation experts from the IAEA and their counterparts in Member States.
Around the world, 124 power reactors have been shut down and several hundred nuclear installations, including research, medical and power reactors, are ageing and approaching the end of their operational lifespan. As the global community becomes ever more demanding about not only the safety and economy but also the sustainability of nuclear installations over their entire lifecycle, the advancement of decommissioning and environmental remediation projects is necessary to reassure the general public of the sustainability of nuclear energy.
"I want to reiterate the importance of decommissioning and remediation in the lifecycle of nuclear installations," said Deputy Director General and the Head of Nuclear Energy Department, Alexander Bychkov, in addressing the panel. "There can be no real future for nuclear energy unless the global community can see that these aspects are being addressed, both in the forward planning of new facilities and in the remediation of legacy sites from the past."
The discussion, which continues an initiative that began last year at the 55th IAEA General Conference, considered a number of issues relevant to the implementation of decommissioning and environmental remediation projects, including:
- How to increase technical capacities in Member States;
- How to overcome financial constraints in implementation of projects;
- How to remove barriers that inhibit cooperation between organizations with experience in decommissioning and environmental remediation;
- Importance of stakeholder involvement in projects; and
- Possible models for facilitating and strengthening partnerships for project development and the potential for establishing training centers to enhance technical capabilities at national and regional levels.
"It is in everyone's interest that the historical legacies from the nuclear industry are dealt with as quickly and efficiently as possible," said UK Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Mrs. Susan le Jeune d'Allegeershecque. "This initiative can help clarify what the priorities are and how these can best be addressed. The UK will provide practical support to any future initiative that could help achieve these aims."
Role of IAEA
The environmental laws and regulations now applying to the nuclear power and related defence industry are significantly more demanding than those which were in force when many of the older facilities were first designed and built more than 50 years ago.
Today, there are more nuclear installations that await decommissioning and many more approaching the end of their operational life. In addition, a number of sites have been contaminated by radioactivity such as at Chernobyl, Goiania and most recently Fukushima. In response, the IAEA has taken a proactive role in assisting the nuclear industry cope with decommissioning and environmental remediation challenges.
Acting on the request from a number of Member States, the IAEA also established The International Decommissioning Network (IDN), in 2007, and the Network of Environmental Management and Remediation (ENVIRONET), in 2009.
Each network facilitates information and experience exchange, communication, and coordination between Member States with developed decommissioning and environmental remediation experience to share both their knowledge and experience with countries who face the challenge of first time programs or those with a lack of resources to implement projects.
Following the 55th General Conference, the IAEA launched the CIDER project, an initiative which aims to examine the global constraints to decommissioning and environmental remediation.
As part of this project, the IAEA circulated a major questionnaire aimed at gaining a more precise understanding of the global situation and of the major constraints at implementing decommissioning environmental remediation projects in Member States.
The questionnaire, once analyzed, will serve as a sound basis for discussion between Member States and international stakeholders on what technical, societal, environmental and economic steps might be taken by the global community in these fields. This discussion will begin with a Technical Meeting that will take place in the first quarter of 2013, and will map out he role the IAEA can have in furthering decommissioning and remediation projects.