Decontamination & decommissioning
Nuclear site redevelopment1 November 2011
Early planning for the use of a nuclear site after decommissioning can save cleanup money, and benefit the community. By Michele Laraia
For a long time, the final goal for decommissioning was envisaged to be reaching the unrestricted release of the site, including demolition of the remaining structures (greenfield). As these facilities lose their capacity to perform their function, they are often seen only in terms of the decommissioning liability associated with the owner’s responsibility to keep the facilities in a safe condition and to eventually safely demolish them and dispose/store the wastes. An alternative hierarchy of decommissioning objectives can provide a more constructive outcome.
Experience has shown that most cases of complete decommissioning (resulting in delicencing of the site) have been followed by immediate re-use of the site or buildings in a productive application. Most nuclear facilities benefit from a flat topography, good access to utilities, transport and other communication links, and a skilled local workforce, all of which are conducive to rapid redevelopment.
Given that decommissioning of nuclear installations will usually be followed by site re-development, it is reasonable to consider the implications of deliberately planning for decommissioning as a redevelopment tool. This is further elaborated in
Table 1. This paper elaborates two recent IAEA reports [1, 2].
Integration of decommissioning and re-development activities offers the prospect of earlier reuse of the site, bringing forward in time the realisation of the site value for the operator/licensee. Also, post-decommissioning redevelopment of a site can be used as an argument to improve public acceptance in favour of building a nuclear facility. From a planning perspective, however, integration of re-development has the potential to cause uncertainty if the redevelopment proposals are brought in to the attention of the decommissioner at a somewhat late stage in the course of decommissioning project. This may require difficult renegotiations between the site re-developer and the decommissioner. In general, early planning for site re-development may alleviate these difficulties.
Phases of redevelopment
Redevelopment is dynamic, often requiring a case-by-case approach. It is also an iterative process in which several simultaneous activities that take place may have to be repeated or restarted. Redevelopment requires a continuous and interactive co-operation between the different players involved throughout the different phases .
In general, four phases can be identified in every redevelopment project. In the initiation phase, one acquires a general picture of the site and of key players. In the concept phase, a detailed analysis of the site is executed by collecting as much information as possible concerning town/country environmental planning, environmental, technical, economical, legal and social aspects of the site. In the planning phase, the re-development concept is further refined into a development plan. In the project realisation phase, the work is carried out.
During each of the phases a classification system can be applied to evaluate the degree of complexity of the different visions and variants of redevelopment. If it turns out that a variant cannot be achieved due to the degree of complexity, it could be adapted or omitted. One should however also take into account the social surplus value.
When planning and executing a redevelopment project, the property manager can beneficially use a number of factors to promote the project to investors, government and other stakeholders.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of such factors:
- Location of site
- Utilities (electricity, sewage, communication, water supply)
- Accessibility (roads, canal, railway)
- Other business activity (such as factories and/or laboratories) in the neighbourhood
- Skilled workers
- Safety services (fences, guards, fire brigade)
- Presence of sound buildings
- Existence of licenses
- Former site characterisation (groundwater monitoring, quantification of seismic hazard)
- Sport and leisure facilities
Depending on the presence of one or more of the factors mentioned above, different redevelopment outcomes can be considered. Possible outcomes might comprise: industrial/business park, R&D facility, waste process facility, recreational park (including hotels/restaurants), sport and leisure facilities, nature reserve, residential area, museums/exhibition centres.
Early planning for closure offers evaluation of opportunities that are not available in conventional development planning. In particular, by discussing with local planners and potential development partners the long-term prospects for redevelopment of a site, the upgrading of local infrastructure can be influenced to favour the development of industrial activity and communication links in the area. By using the site to attract other commercial activities, the potential for future progressive release of the site is improved and the employment dislocation caused by closure may possibly be reduced. In some cases advance planning of decommissioning will identify problems that require either new technology (such as cleanup techniques) or the development of new infrastructure (such as waste disposal facilities) to resolve. By identifying these needs early in the process, the opportunity for orderly development of solutions is created and the potential for costly delays in decommissioning and redevelopment is reduced. Current standards already recommend early consideration of decommissioning in a facility’s lifetime .
Advance planning also provides an opportunity to estimate the future costs of redevelopment and the potential for income generation from the sale of the site and its assets. It is important that the operator’s financial planning takes account of these anticipated cash-flows so that the finance is available at the appropriate time to pursue the most economically-attractive option overall. Delays are commonly encountered in decommissioning projects because of inadequate provision of funding, and such delays can lead to missed redevelopment opportunities and undermine partnerships with co-developers.
Operation of any nuclear facility normally involves interactions with different external agencies and organisations, including customers, suppliers, regulators, regional and local officials. In the case of site redevelopment, new parties will take an interest in the project and the range of outside stakeholders may well increase. The extent of the interest from the community can vary from limited to very broad. On one extreme, stakeholders may support the use of some site facilities to the greatest extent possible to minimize construction of very short-term use new facilities to support the cleanup of a site, such as Garigliano . On the other extreme, the benefits of reuse may be very large but accrue not to individual companies but instead to the community, which would profit from retention of jobs and stable or increased tax revenues. In these circumstances, facility owners may be able to negotiate grants, payments or ‘in kind’ assistance from local governments in exchange for a commitment to prepare a decommissioned site for reuse.
Experience to date with redevelopment both inside and outside the nuclear field suggests that successful stakeholder engagement can be a key success factor in promoting outcomes that are both profitable for the operator and recognised as responsible and worthwhile by the wider community. The principles of sustainable development suggest that what is needed is a more transparent and participative decision-making process than has been the practice to date in many aspects of nuclear power development. This presents a challenge to the nuclear industry to learn new ways to consult with and engage a wider range of interested parties and to be ready to accept their perspectives as legitimate.
Regardless of life extension programmes, in the coming decade the rate at which large commercial power units are retired is expected to rise steadily, as well over 100 reactors commissioned in the 1970s and 1980s begin to reach the end of their operational lives and are permanently shut down. Growth in the stock of redundant nuclear support facilities such as research laboratories, pilot plants, fuel manufacturing and reprocessing plants is expected to continue to add to the opportunities for and need for nuclear decommissioning expertise.
Certain commercial nuclear power plant operators have elected to replace the nuclear heat source with a conventional fossil-fuelled heat source and reuse the site for continued electrical generation. Such cases were Hallam, Pathfinder and Fort St Vrain (FSV) in the USA . This strategy is endorsed by legislation in countries such as Japan where land is at a premium and the current decommissioning strategy is to install NPP units at the same site as decommissioned NPPs .
A decommissioned facility might be converted to a radioactive waste storage facility (for example, in a country not having a national waste disposal site, decommissioning waste might be stored at their generation site along with operational wastes). This might be the case for Estonia’s Paldiski reactor building housing two prototype reactors encased in concrete and relatively large amounts of radioactive waste from other onsite facilities .
Similarly, spent fuel could be stored at the facility site. In fact, this seems the most likely destination of a number of decommissioned US NPPs, pending availability of a centralised high-level waste disposal facility. It should be noted that this option at least partly prevents the effective re-development of the decommissioned facility’s site.
Many sites are also located far from centres of population in remote locations which can be a disadvantage (for example, Hanford site and Los Alamos National Laboratory, USA). The remoteness of these sites and their situation in undeveloped areas can however make tourism-related development relevant. Sites which have poor communication links and which are not close to other economic activity are disadvantaged from a redevelopment standpoint and should consider finding ways to improve their communications. This can be achieved by attracting the establishment of other industrial or commercial activities close to the site, for example by making unused land available at low rents and by lobbying regional development agencies to consider improving communication links to the site as part of their development plans. Such initiatives may take years or decades to come to fruition and so must normally be engaged long before site closure takes place in order to be effective.
In some cases, sites may never be able to be released for unrestricted use .
Some nuclear sites already have visitors’ centres. Others have historical museums and science museums for visitors.
Some nuclear facilities are more suitable than others to be converted to nuclear museums or nuclear exhibition centres. This may depend on factors such as interest shown by local communities, corporate promotion policies or simply as a convenient source of revenues. One point of caveat is that environmental cleanup and historic preservation might be incompatible in times of tight budgets .
There are a number of examples of nuclear museums established or planned on the site of decommissioned facilities, including:
- Chinon 1 NPP in France
- FR-2 research reactor, Germany 
- the HIFAR reactor in Australia
- the ORNL graphite reactor, USA 
- the B reactor at Hanford, USA
- the EBR-1 reactor, INEEL, USA
This article was originally published in the October 2011 issue of Nuclear Engineering International (p29-32)
Michele Laraia, IAEA decommissioning unit leader (until 30 November 2011), consultant, Kolonitzgasse 10/2, 1030 Vienna (Austria).
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