Canadian Coalition
for Nuclear

Regroupement pour
la surveillance
du nucléaire

See Also:

[ Cost Disadvantages of Expanding Nuclear Power : Decommissioning ]

[ Canada's Nuclear Dilemma : Decommissioning ]


[ Nuclear Wastes: What, Me Worry? : Decommissioning ]

Decommissioning Reactors:
A Growth Industry

this article first appeared in 1983 in the Toronto Star

  • Decommissioning Offers Business Opportunities

  • Sales that weren't made

  • Survival prospects

  • France forging ahead

  • Decommissioning Offers Business Opportunities

    While sales prospects for nuclear reactors at home and abroad have all but evaporated, servicing the existing population of reactors worldwide is becoming a multibillion dollar high-tech industry.

    Dismantling a single nuclear reactor at the end of its life, for example, could cost from 3 to 100 percent of the original cost, or as much as $1 billion per reactor, according to a recent U.S. congressional report. Since 100 nuclear power plants will be retired and slated for "decommissioning" before the end of the century, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, decommissioning could become the bread-and-butter work of tomorrow's nuclear industry.

    Sales that weren't made

    Fortunately for Canada's beleaguered nuclear industry, the growing need to repair, maintain and decommission an aging reactor population coupled with the increasingly urgent need to find safe methods for the disposal of radioactive wastes could help fill the gap left by the numerous sales of CANDU reactors that have failed to materialize as expected in the 1980s.

    The situation is so bad, in fact, that the financing arrangement only now being concluded for the last sale (made to Romania more than five years ago) "is reminiscent of the Middle Ages," according to Jack Howett, chairman of the Organization of CANDU Industries. In exchange for CANDU components Romania will send Canadian suppliers $500 million worth of Romanian-made goods such as farm equipment, frozen strawberries, and clothing to be sold by these same suppliers either in Canada or abroad.

    Survival prospects

    The nuclear industry lobby, the Canadian Nuclear Association, is equally disheartened, having fallen far short of the "one or two reactor sales a year" it warned (in 1978) are essential to the viability of the industry. Echoing the industry's findings, a 1982 report from the federal ministry of energy concluded that even under the most optimistic scenario, Canada's nuclear industry cannot survive in its present form beyond 1990.

    Despite these dire predictions, the industry has done little to turn to a clearly defined growth area -- the growing number of pressing problems that will have to be tackled in the nuclear field, whether or not CANDU sales recover:

    France forging ahead

    While Canada has been slow to act, France is already forging ahead. André Crégut, head of the French decommissioning program, told the Canadian Nuclear Association in June that "advanced robotic equipment" to dismantle old reactors is now being developed in France.

    France is also actively researching techniques for packaging, transporting and burying hundreds of truckloads of radioactive reactor rubble -- techniques likely to have numerous valuable spin-offs for industrial robotics & toxic chemical disposal.

    By following France's lead and concentrating on these new growth areas, Canada's nuclear industry could forestall one of Ottawa's chief fears: the break-up of the tightly knit teams of nuclear experts essential to Canada's involvement in the industry.

    As early as 1977, the U.S. General Accounting Office warned that the collapse of the nuclear industry might leave the public holding the bag with

    no nuclear-related organization, nuclear equipment, or individuals expert in the nuclear field capable of dealing with the decommissioning and decontamination problems that could remain for about 100 years after the last reactor is shut down.

    In Canada alone, 25 nuclear power reactors will have been in operation by the year 2000 if those currently planned are completed -- each requiring ongoing servicing, provision for high level radioactive waste disposal, and finally decommissioning. [Note: as of 1999, the actual number of CANDU power reactors completed was 25, of which 4 were permanently shut down and 7 were temporarily mothballed, leaving 14 operating (12 in Ontario, one in Quebec, and one in New Brunswick.]

    Worldwide, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, "decommissioning of nuclear plants will become a routine industrial activity during the next 20 years." The first of these, with financing from Ottawa, could be Canada's Gentilly-1, giving Canada a head start in a key technology that could comprise the lion's share of the multibillion dollar business of maintaining aging reactors and ultimately giving them a decent burial.

    -- Gordon Edwards, President, CCNR --

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