Safe Closure and Cleanup: International Conference on Decommissioning and Environmental Remediation Opens in Madrid

Juan Carlos Lentijo, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Safety and Security (left),  Juan José Zaballa Gómez, Enresa's President and conference chairperson (centre) and Christophe Xerri, Director of the IAEA Division of Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Technology (right) addressing the press at the international conference on decommissioning and environmental remediation.  (Photo: J. Donovan/IAEA)

Safe decommissioning of nuclear facilities and remediation of radioactively contaminated sites present major challenges. Recent trends in these two fields will be the focus of an International Conference on Advancing the Global Implementation of Decommissioning and Environmental Remediation Programmes starting today.

“In addition to the technical and safety aspects of decommissioning and environmental remediation, there is also an ethical dimension: generations benefitting from nuclear technologies need to do their best to solve the problems related to decommissioning, remediation and waste management without transferring undue burden to future generations,” said Juan Carlos Lentijo, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security.

Over 500 experts and officials attending the week-long event in Madrid will discuss issues pertaining to the dismantling of nuclear power plants, research and fuel cycle facilities, research reactors and particle accelerators as well as the remediation of former nuclear and industrial sites. These sites include those affected by past uranium mining and processing operations, and by activities involving the use of radioactive material or as a result of a nuclear or radiological accident.

Decommissioning and environmental remediation programmes serve to diminish the possibility of radiation exposure from sites in order to protect people and the environment and thereby make them available for future reuse.

Safe operations for shutdown and cleanup

While some countries have achieved substantial progress, others are still in the process of planning and implementing their decommissioning and environmental remediation programmes. Many nuclear facilities are approaching the end of their operational lives, and contaminated sites due to past nuclear and other industrial activities exist all over the world.

It is essential to recognize the importance of proper decommissioning and environmental remediation not only for addressing the existing issues, but also for the planning of new nuclear facilities and activities in order to minimize the likelihood of contaminated sites being created in the future.

“The decommissioning of nuclear power plants is a major priority for the nuclear industry; it is important to facilitate the exchange of experience between those countries already undertaking decommissioning and those who will need to proceed with decommissioning in the future,” said Mikhail Chudakov, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy. “Our projections show that by 2030 there will be more than 150 reactor units needing decommissioning. Already 157 units have been permanently shut down and only about 10% of them have been fully dismantled.”

The remediation of land, soil and groundwater contaminated by radioactive substances also needs to be addressed by countries with such sites. These can encompass a variety of situations, including defence facilities, sites affected by former uranium mining and milling operations, areas affected by nuclear or radiological accidents, past disposal facilities and some sites storing naturally radioactive material used by non-nuclear industries. These sites need to be assessed in order to prioritize the necessary actions to protect the public and the environment.

During the conference, countries will share and review challenges, achievements and lessons learned related to the decommissioning and environmental remediation programmes that have been implemented during the past decade. Key topics include establishing national policies and strategies, regulatory frameworks and standards, technical and technological aspects, optimizing waste and materials management and future needs for international cooperation.

A participant at the IAEA booth at the international conference taking place in Madrid. (Photo: J. Donovan/IAEA)

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Last update: 23 May 2016