It was recently reported that France’s oldest nuclear power station will be shut down within the next few months. The Associated Press article reported that 14 nuclear reactors out of the 58 now running at 19 plants will be shut down by 2035, in accordance with France’s energy strategy for the next 30 years. This action is part of “the first phase” of France’s plan that calls for a re-balancing of nuclear-produced energy and electricity derived from renewable sources.
According to a report by rfi, a French news and current affairs public radio station, the closure will take years:
The evacuation of the combustible waste linked to the Fessenheim plant will take place between now and the summer of 2023, followed by the demolition of the site which could last until at least 2040….
The French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) is responsible for dismantling its nuclear facilities, researching technologies involved in dismantling, and managing the waste resulting from such activities. However, each dismantling site has its own unique requirements, contingent upon the type of facility:
Depending on the surface area and facility configuration, the equipment needs to be dismantled and the radioactivity removed from the walls, pipes, reactor vessels, etc. Various chemical, mechanical and thermal processes are employed to complete these decontamination operations. If the workers performing these operations are at risk of being contaminated, those must be carried out remotely using robotic devices, often developed in-house by the CEA.
In the United States, decommissioning — which is the process by which nuclear power plants are dismantled, retired from service and the operating licenses granted by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) are terminated. To ensure that decommissioning is safe and environmentally sound, the NRC established regulations and associated guidance outlining the requirements and process companies must follow. (You can read additional key facts about the decommissioning process here, on the NEI website.) According to the NRC,
After closure of a nuclear power plant, the licensee has to reduce the residual radioactivity to safe levels. This will allow the NRC to release the property and permanently terminate the facility’s license. The site must be decommissioned within 60 years of the plant ceasing operations. The decommissioning process involves removing the used nuclear fuel from the reactor, placing it into the used fuel pool, and eventually into dry storage containers (which can be stored on-site or transported off-site); dismantling systems or components containing radioactive products (e.g., the reactor vessel); and cleaning up or dismantling contaminated materials from the facility. Contaminated materials can be disposed of in two ways: decontaminated on-site or removed and shipped to a waste-processing, storage or disposal facility.
We’ve noted in previous articles that decommissioning can be a labor intensive and dirty job, as well as a dangerous one. Many sites have more than just radiation to worry about: chemicals may also be present. Advanced, integrated radiation detection and radioactivity measurement instruments, as well as chemical analyzers, help mitigate the threat and keep workers safe.
Here are some of the radiation detection solutions that can be used in the decommissioning process:
- Electronic dosimeters and dosimetry services offer accurate measurement of radiation dose exposure in the workplace, ensuring personnel safety in any environment where radiation exposure is an issue.
- Personnel Contamination Monitors identify surface contamination on the body, hands, and feet. Hand and Foot Monitors identify surface contamination on the hands, and feet. Personnel Gamma Portal Monitors provide simplified but advanced monitoring capability for workers, articles and waste well below clearance levels.
- Air monitoring systems give early warning to workers of airborne alpha and beta radiation. Alpha and Beta Air Monitors are an excellent solution for monitoring work areas as well as monitoring stacks and ducts.
- Personal Dose Rate Meters detect and measure very low gamma energies; even the smallest change in radiation rates are displayed in real-time, while coincidentally occurring fluctuations are suppressed. MicroRem/Sievert Tissue-Equivalent Survey Meters are ideal in applications where accurate dose rate measurements of low radiation levels are required. Ion Chamber Survey Meters are specifically designed to have a flat energy response X-rays.
- Geiger Muller, scintillation and gas proportional detectors are suited for a wide range of applications to locate and quantify radiation.
- Multi-Purpose Survey Meters help to quickly identify mixed radioactive surface contamination in facility and field environments.
- Spectroscopic Personal Radiation Detectors detect and identify neutron and gamma radiation, while Handheld Radiation Isotope Identifiers are well suited to support contamination monitoring and remediation.
According to rfi, France has the second largest network of plants in the world behind the United States. Currently, around 800 employees have been assigned to these dismantling operations in France which are financed via a specific multi-year fund. All the CEA actions in this field are governed by French legislation which is backed by specific regulations. It’s a slow process, but they are hoping that by 2035 France will derive less than 50% of its electricity from nuclear plants.