According to figures published by the World Nuclear Organisation, there are currently 440 operating reactors throughout the world in over 29 countries, with further reactors under construction. In addition, there are approximately 230 research reactors in 56 countries and approximately 140 nuclear propelled vessels (mostly submarines) powered by 180 nuclear reactors, predominantly in the US and Russia.

At the end of its useful life a nuclear power station, as with all power stations, needs to be decommissioned and dismantled. With the exception of the nuclear island the decommissioning of a nuclear site is substantially the same as any other station – the office blocks will be demolished, the turbine hall will be dismantled and the turbines removed, and then the generator and the condenser can be removed.

In the case of a nuclear plant, the aspects that require special attention are the nuclear island, its surrounding area such as the radioactive elements as well as waste management considerations.

There are three alternative options to standard decommissioning. The delayed decommissioning or SAFSTOR method requires that the nuclear station is maintained and monitored in a condition which allows the radiation to decay. The DECON method provides for immediate dismantling soon after the station closes, the radioactive structures are removed or dismantled to a level which permits the release of the licence. The final method is ENTOMB in which the radioactive containments are permanently encased on site.

The industry norm is that we should now build power stations incorporating proven technology and that a decommissioning plan can be drawn up at the time the station is built and then maintained through the life of the plant. This approach enables operators of nuclear sites to understand their decommissioning obligations at the start of the project.

Many countries now require a decommissioning fund to be established when a new station is built. Such fund will be ring fenced and can only be used to meet the costs of decommissioning. If insufficient funds are allocated to the central fund in a given year, a criminal penalty for the directors of the operating company could result.

With the aid of the decommissioning plan the operator will be able to understand the extent of the costs (or at least most of them) that will be required to decommission the station at the end of its life. Once the fund is established the money that is paid into it on a yearly basis simply becomes an operating cost which can then be taken into account with all other operating costs of the station.

Our specialist lawyers are experienced with negotiating contracts for and have the breadth of expertise in advising on all aspects and at every stage of a decommissioning project. We also have experience of advising on decommissioning funds and fund management.