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Planning and Preparing for Decommissioning: Interregional Workshop Supports Member States with Research Reactor Programmes


The workshop participants undertaking group exercises involving the definition of a waste inventory expected to result from the decommissioning of a typical research reactor. (Photo: J. Zhang/IAEA)

Today, before a research reactor is built, the prospective operators are typically required to submit a plan describing how the facility will eventually be decommissioned. Many older reactors were built without having developed such a plan and, in several cases, such reactors spend several years in a shutdown state before operators are ready to proceed with their dismantling. Two recent IAEA-organized events—a workshop organized under an interregional technical cooperation (TC) project[1] and a technical meeting for interested Member States—explored the practical, financial and regulatory dimensions of research reactor decommissioning.

Today, more than 200 research reactors are in operation around the world. They are used  to produce life-saving radiopharmaceuticals, to conduct cutting-edge research and to support education and training in nuclear science and technology. Although many of them will continue to operate for the foreseeable future, some research reactors will soon reach the end of their working life. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that the appropriate skills and resources are available to safely decommission them.

From 21 to 25 October, the IAEA held a workshop during which participants from all over the world shared their experiences in the areas of planning, costing and eventually implementing a research reactor decommissioning project. The 27 participating professionals—all of whom currently work in the field of research reactor management and operation—met at the Cadarache Nuclear Centre in Saint-Paul-lez-Durance, France to discuss and explore all aspects of decommissioning, from the development of physical and radiological inventories to the management of associated waste. Hosted by the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), the workshop was attended by participants from 23 countries.

Patrick O’Sullivan, IAEA Decommissioning Specialist, is joined by Katherine Moshonas Cole, Chair of the DACCORD project and other colleagues at French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission for presentations and group exercises during the five-day workshop. (Photo: J. Zhang/IAEA)

Research reactors are simpler and smaller than their power-generating relatives. They operate at lower temperatures and require far less fuel. In addition to producing neutron sources for use in industry, medicine, agriculture and forensics, these ‘non-power’ reactors play a central role in the development of nuclear science and technology, from basic and applied research to material characterization and testing. More than 800 research reactors and critical assemblies have been in operation worldwide since the 1950s. Of these, approximately 440 have already been fully decommissioned.

To demonstrate the practical dimensions of a successful decommissioning project, the workshop included technical visits to research reactors whose decommissioning was at an advanced planning stage or already underway—notably, the Phebus, Masurca, Minerve and Eole units. Taking advantage of the classroom lectures, as well as the technical tour of the soon-to-be-decommissioned units, the workshop participants presented ‘Country Reports,’ in which they elaborated plans for the decommissioning of a particular research reactor in their respective Member State. Additionally, much of the workshop’s classroom time was devoted to hands-on, group exercises during which the trainees developed waste inventories—the materials expected to result from the future dismantling of the facility—based on radiological data provided by the participating experts.

Counting the Cost of Decommissioning

As a parallel activity, from 21 to 25 October, experts from 12 countries attended the final technical meeting of the IAEA’s Data Analysis and Collection for Costing of Research Reactor Decommissioning (DACCORD) initiative, also held at Cadarache. DACCORD is an international collaborative project which supports the development of robust estimates of the future costs of decommissioning research reactors across the world.

“Both the interregional workshop and the technical meeting involved a significant use of collaborative group activities. In case of the workshop, group exercises were supported by experts, with minimal workshop time being devoted to classroom-style presentations. This has helped to promote a much higher level of retention of the material discussed at the workshop,” said Patrick O’Sullivan, an IAEA Decommissioning Specialist and the coordinator of the meetings.  

“It has been a great honour to host both the workshop and technical meeting in Cadarache and share France’s decommissioning experience. The visit of the four reactors at different phases of decommissioning has been, for all of us within the CEA teams and among the IAEA Member States, a very fruitful experience with a high level of exchange about technical practices,” said Eric Gouhier, an international decommissioning expert at the CEA.

“The IAEA’s DACCORD project and the costing exercises during the interregional workshop are based on use of the International Structure for Decommissioning Costing (ISDC) methodology. The participants of the workshop are now familiar with this methodology, so they can continue in developing and optimising their own costing cases,” said Vladimir Daniska, a Decommissioning Specialist at the VUJE engineering company in Slovakia.

[1]INT9183, ‘Overcoming the Barriers to Implementation of Decommissioning and Environmental Remediation Projects’

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