Over the past 60 years, hundreds of nuclear reactors have been built around the world.
The majority are still generating much-needed electricity but they are also creating nuclear waste in the form of spent fuel and lower level contamination.
Only a small proportion of the world’s reactors have been decommissioned so far, but we are fast moving towards a crucial period where more than 200 are approaching their twilight years. Some may receive five or 10-year life extensions but most will be shut down. I expect we will see decommissioning on an unprecedented scale.
On top of this, we have legacy waste from nuclear deterrent programmes during the Cold War, when hazardous materials were placed into ponds and silos, often with no records.
The size of the problem can be measured in hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of higher level waste and tens of millions of cubic metres of low and intermediate level waste. Global spending on this work is estimated to exceed $100 billion by 2030. Additionally, we still need to complete the nuclear cycle by putting in place a long-term solution for high level waste. This is not only a problem but also an opportunity.
Amec Foster Wheeler’s approach to seizing this opportunity is based on technical innovation, simple solutions that avoid over-engineering, stronger international collaboration, and the More4Less methodology of delivering more work for less cost without compromising on safety.
Funding for decommissioning comes either from governments or utilities, or a combination of the two. Rarely is clean-up sufficiently high profile to win elections and it doesn’t generate any profits for the site owners, whose key driver is to reduce their liabilities.
But waste management and decommissioning are not a distressed purchase. They are an investment in our future safety and security.
That’s why it’s so important for those involved in this vital industry to meet and exchange ideas, as we are doing at the WM2016 Symposia in Phoenix, Arizona, this week.