The Energy Collective Group

This group brings together the best thinkers on energy and climate. Join us for smart, insightful posts and conversations about where the energy industry is and where it is going.

9,876 Members

Post

How Much Will It Really Cost to Decommission the Aging French Nuclear Fleet?

Chooz nuclear power station in northern France. (Photo: Ecowatch)

A recently published French governmental report has blown a significant hole in the French nuclear decommissioning strategy, writes Paul Dorfman, Honorary Senior Research Associate at the Energy Institute, University College London and founder of the Nuclear Consulting Group. According to Dorfman, the report found that the clean-up of French reactors will take longer, be more challenging and cost much more than French nuclear operator EDF anticipates. Republished from Nuclear Monitor #839 www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor

The French report, on the technical and financial feasibility of dismantling nuclear facilities, was produced by the National Assembly’s Commission for Sustainable Development and Regional Development.1

In late January, the Committee took evidence from the EDF head of decommissioning and me. Given the Commission had been working on this for months, and had listened to mounds of complex data, I decided to cut to the chase and make as clear an argument as I could. What follows is that evidence.

How much have France, Germany and UK set aside for decommissioning?

Whereas Germany has set aside €38 billion to decommission 17 nuclear reactors, and the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority estimates that clean-up of UK’s 17 nuclear sites will cost between €109‒250 billion over the next 120 years, France has set aside only €23 billion to decommissioning its 58 reactors. To put this in context, according to the European Commission,

Soon EDF will have to start the biggest, most complex and costliest nuclear decommissioning and radioactive waste management programme on earth

France estimates it will cost €300 million per gigawatt (GW) of generating capacity to decommission a nuclear reactor ‒ far below Germany’s assumption of €1.4 billion per GW and the UK estimate of €2.7 billion per GW.

How can EDF decommission at such low cost?

EDF maintain that because of standardization of some of the reactors and because there are multiple reactors located on single sites, they can decommission at a low cost. Does this claim stack up? Well, probably not. Reactors are complex pieces of kit, and each has a differing operational and safety history. In other words, nuclear reactor decommissioning is essentially a ‘bespoke’ process.

Who will pay?

Germany has made multiple provision, enrolling the reactor owners involved ‒ EnBW, EOn, RWE and Vattenfall ‒ to pay into a state-owned fund to decommission the plants and manage radioactive waste. The UK Government will pay most of the costs for nuclear decommissioning and existing waste. In France, EDF must pay for it all. For the French, the big question is: Has EDF set aside enough money to cover the huge cost of dismantling and cleaning up its existing nuclear power stations?

EDF says it wants to set aside a €23 billion fund to cover decommissioning and waste storage for an estimated €54 billion final bill ‒ and the difference between these two figures will be closed through the appreciating value of its equities, bonds and investments ‒ in other words, ‘discounting’. Discounting involves hoping that the value of these equities, bonds and investments will increase over time. Unfortunately, recent experience has taught us that markets can go up and down over time ‒ especially the very long-time periods involved in radioactive waste management.

Why has EDF underestimated the costs of decommissioning and waste storage?

Even EDFs €23 billion limited provision for decommissioning and waste storage is a large sum of money for a company that has huge borrowings and enormous debt, which is currently running at €37 billion.

The French nuclear regulator (ASN) says that storing and disposal are much bigger and costlier problems than just dismantling the reactors

Already, Standard and Poor and Moodys (the two biggest international credit rating agencies) have downgraded EDFs credit-worthiness over the corporation’s potentially ill-advised decision to go ahead with attempting to construct two more of the failing Areva reactor design (the EPR) at Hinkley Point, UK. And any significant change in the cost of decommissioning would have an immediate and disastrous impact on EDFs credit rating ‒ something that the debt-ridden corporation can simply not afford.

EDF’s other financial woes 

EDF is already in financial trouble. Along with bailing out the collapsing French nuclear engineering design company (Areva), not only must EDF bear the huge financial burden of their failing reactor new-build at Flamanville, but also pay for extending the life of France’s existing nuclear power stations (to 2025), at a cost of €55 billion.

Meanwhile, the estimated cost of radioactive waste management is steadily rising. There are three elements to the waste costs: decommissioning; spent fuel and waste storage (and conditioning) prior to disposal; and spent fuel and waste disposal.

The French nuclear regulator (ASN) says that storing and disposal are much bigger and costlier problems than just dismantling the reactors. This is because nuclear waste (high and medium level waste, including spent fuel) must be dismantled and moved to a new facility, which has not even begun to be built yet. And the French authority tasked with disposal of all the countries vast and increasing waste burden (Andra) has recently ramped the estimated cost for the planned national nuclear waste repository at Cigéo, to €25 billion ‒ and EDF must pay for most of Cigéo’s construction. Although €5 billion more than EDF anticipated, it still seems a gross underestimation, and the costs are likely to rise considerably.

Spent nuclear fuel build-up

Then there’s EDF’s existential problems at France’s high-level waste storage and reprocessing facility at La Hague, where spent nuclear fuel stores are reaching current cooling capacity limits. This means La Hague may now have to turn away spent fuel shipments from France’s reactor fleet.

In any case, since ASN has identified safety problems with some spent fuel transport flasks, spent fuel transport to La Hague has substantially slowed. All this means the build-up of spent fuel at nuclear sites across France, with the associated problem of cooling the spent fuel at those sites during dry summer periods, with all that means for further escalation of rad-waste costs.

French National Assembly Commission findings

Happily, and perhaps unexpectedly, when the National Assembly’s Commission for Sustainable Development and Regional Development published its final key findings last month, they came down on the side of those who voiced concerns about EDF’s provisioning for reactor decommissioning and waste management, noting that there is “obvious under-provisioning” regarding “certain heavy expenses” such as taxes and insurance, remediation of contaminated soil, the reprocessing of spent fuel and the social impact of decommissioning.

The Commission found that the clean-up of French reactors will take longer, be more challenging and cost much more than EDF anticipates.

“Other countries have embarked on the dismantling of their power plants, and the feedback we have generally contradicts EDF’s optimism about both the financial and technical aspects of decommissioning”

The Commission reported that EDF showed “excessive optimism” in the decommissioning of its nuclear power plants. “Other countries have embarked on the dismantling of their power plants, and the feedback we have generally contradicts EDF’s optimism about both the financial and technical aspects of decommissioning,” the report states. The cost of decommissioning “is likely to be greater than the provisions”, the technical feasibility is “not fully assured” and the dismantling work will take “presumably more time than expected”.

Critically, the Commission’s report says that EDF arrived at its cost estimate by extrapolating to all sites the estimated cost of decommissioning a generic plant comprising four 900 MWe reactors, such as Dampierre, noting that: “The initial assumption according to which the dismantling of the whole fleet will be homogeneous is questioned by some specialists who argue that each reactor has a particular history with different incidents that have occurred during its history”.

So what now?

Soon EDF will have to start the biggest, most complex and costliest nuclear decommissioning and radioactive waste management programme on earth. It seems very likely that ‒ for various reasons associated with its current bank balance ‒ EDF may have seriously underestimated the real challenges and costs, with serious consequences for its already unhealthy balance sheet. This will have profound consequences for the French State, which underwrites EDF.

by

The National Assembly’s report (in French) is posted at www2.assemblee-nationale.fr/documents/notice/14/rap-info/i4428/%28index%29/depots

Dr Paul Dorfman is Honorary Senior Research Associate, Energy Institute, University College London (UCL); and founder of the Nuclear Consulting Group (www.nuclearconsult.com). 

This article was first published in Nuclear Monitor #839 www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor and is republished here with permission.

Original Post

Paul Dorfman's picture

Thank Paul for the Post!

Energy Central contributors share their experience and insights for the benefit of other Members (like you). Please show them your appreciation by leaving a comment, 'liking' this post, or following this Member.

Recent Comments

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on March 15, 2017

Environmentalist Mark Lynas described this author, Dorfman, as an “ex-Green Audit hack”, Green Audit being an organization that claimed Dorfman and made statements such as

“For example, electricity produced by nuclear power is powering hospitals; people in those hospitals are dying of cancer as a consequence of nuclear pollution. This is, in microcosm, an example of the runaway feedback which threatens us all. “

Jarmo Mikkonen's picture
Jarmo Mikkonen on March 15, 2017

Mark,

Just take a look at the homepage of the organisation that originally published this article:

https://www.wiseinternational.org/

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on March 15, 2017

Yes, I know of the antinuclear organization Wise, though I didn’t know if they simply picked up this article as did TEC or sponsored it.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 16, 2017

The prospect that nuclear decommissioning:
– will cost so much more than projected; worse that
– total costs are still not clear; and
– much of those costs will be socialized and shifted to next generations;

contributed to the 2015 switch of France away from nuclear, towards more renewable.

Thorkil Soee's picture
Thorkil Soee on March 16, 2017

As soon as you discuss nuclear, we end up in conflicting “evidences”.
If you hate nuclear, it looks as a good tool to make demolition difficult and expensive.
Broadly there are four alternatives for demolition and the costs depend upon what you require.
I have tried to collect something, hopefully facts, at least information, on
http://wp.me/s1RKWc-96

Thorkil Soee's picture
Thorkil Soee on March 16, 2017

I should think the author should revise some basic physics.
Or have a look at http://wp.me/p1RKWc-1iq

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on March 16, 2017

Paul, once again, the “nuclear consulting” angle – the timeworn attempt by antinuclear poseurs to present themselves as disillusioned nuclear professionals by talking about atoms, and decommissioning, and science-y stuff.

The tipoff was your belief that nuclear plants “age”, that they get old and die like solar panels. Even a first-year nuclear engineering student knows nuclear plants never have to die – they can be continually refurbished. In fact, there’s no inherent reason they can’t last indefinitely, making decommissioning totally unnecessary. That doesn’t fit well with the renewables agenda which, charming to young children though it may be, doesn’t fit well with replacing fossil fuels.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 16, 2017

NPP’s are also affected when getting older, so seriously that many are closed prematurely. E.g. SONGS.

Even the reactor vessel, as its steel is under relative high neutron bombardment which affects the strength and flexibility of it.
Hence the hair-cracks as shown at a.o. older Belgian reactors….

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on March 16, 2017

And when the punishing heating and reheating of boilers at coal plants cause cracks (10-15 years of service life, vs. three times that for reactor vessels) do utilities retire the coal plant?

Sounds like the sort of folk wisdom one might hear from a nuclear consultant.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 17, 2017

Those leak normal water, nuclear leaks radio-active water!

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on March 17, 2017

Bas, San Onofre was shut down for leaking water 97 million times less radioactive than that determined to be hazardous to human health (Radiological Society of North America), and it never made it outside the plant boundaries.

That the antinuclear imagination is capable of inflating risk by a factor of 97,000,000 is indicative homo sapiens is probably too stupid to save itself.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 17, 2017

Reliable source, such as e.g. NRC?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on March 18, 2017

No Bas, the sources were the radiation badges of those who cleaned the water up. They revealed an exposure of 0.000000052 rem – 97,000,000 times less than that hazardous to human health.

And the rate this radio-inactive water was leaking? Though it was one-half that required by NRC for shutdown, operators shut the plant down anyway, as a precaution. They soon realized their mistake when local antinuclear idiots, under the influence of savants like Hagen Scherb and Arnie Gunderson, began suffering shortness of breath, hallucinations, and other symptoms of Overactive Imagination Disorder – with no link to the leak itself.

Hopefully, plant operators of the future will do a better job of covering up these accidents, and help protect the environment from the real danger – hysterical antinuclear activism. It’s out of control.

https://atomicinsights.com/san-onofre-steam-generators-honest-error-driv...

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 18, 2017

The issue is that SONGS management would be put in prison for years(!), if they had done similar in S-Korea.*)

Because SONGS management circumvented the official test procedure by cheating the NRC that it would be one-to-one replacements of the steam generators (SG’s), while it were new designed SG’s for which an expensive test procedure is prescribed.

Note that earlier cheating of the NRC by management of other NPP’s, leading to dangerous situations, also went unpunished. Which of course induced the cheating by SONGS top-management…

Hence NRC/US govt policies contribute(d) towards a climate in which operating NPP’s less safe, becomes more allowed.

Escaped radiation amount
The question is how much radiation escaped endangering civil population. Of course SONGS management states it’s not dangerous, but those cheated even against the NRC.

Your statement regarding the badges is hardly relevant as the escaped radio-active water didn’t spill over the floor or so, but was drained into the environment, affecting innocent civilian population. Nuclear workers (should) know the risks and get paid for it.

No publication about the radiation amounts spilled into the environment by a (non pro-nuclear fanatic) authority such as the NRC or so?
Or in an highly regarded journal?
Or did you make up your number?

Concealing dangers
Much top-management in the chemical industry will love your proposal to cover the dangers.**) So the public no longer knows whether and how much their health is endangered…

It is in line with the worst nightmare of environmental organizations. Next step is to stop research regarding possible human health harm of new chemicals, radiation, etc.
_______
*) Note that in S-Korea no radiation at all escaped. Just the fact that they falsified papers was enough to put responsible management in prison.

**) If they think they can get away with it, they do it already sometimes. Especially companies whose sales are not dependent on goodwill in the public,

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on March 18, 2017

Yes Bas, and renewables activists in North Korea would be shot with an antiaircraft gun if they promised Chairman Kim Jong-un solar panels would generate dependable electricity. Your point is?

LIke Joe Deely, you get a little hysterical when held to account, suggesting the general public is somehow endangered by materials which aren’t dangerous inside a nuclear plant, much less anywhere else. What were the dangers, Bas? How many were killed – or even injured – outside of your feverish imagination?

Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »