At the invitation of the government of Lithuania, an expert mission led by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has reviewed project risks and uncertainties related to the decommissioning of the two RBMK-1500 light water cooled graphite moderated reactors at Ignalina NPP (INPP). Decommissioning of the two units, which were shut down in 2004 and 2009, is due to be completed in 2038. The European Commission is providing substantial funding for the project.
"Any undertaking of this kind involves a series of risks and uncertainties, so it's important to mitigate them wherever possible," said Patrick O'Sullivan, the IAEA decommissioning specialist who led the four-person mission team that also included experts from Slovakia, the UK and the USA. "Factoring these risks into the planning effort will help ensure realistic future cost estimates."
INPP Director General Darius Janulevicius welcomed the team's findings, and said they would be analysed and applied to the extent possible. "INPP has achieved significant progress over the past few years, ensuring effective implementation of key decommissioning activities," he said. "The broad competence and extensive experience of the experts involved in the IAEA mission will support INPP's efforts towards building up an integrated risk management system that works effectively."
The IAEA team will deliver its full report to the plant's operators in the coming weeks. However, it made a series of recommendations and suggestions aimed at strengthening the operator's ability to identify project risks. These included:
- putting in place a realistic and detailed baseline cost and schedule for the remainder of the project;
- integrating risks into the baseline project and cost schedules, including a range of possible outcomes; and
- instituting a formal process of regular reporting against the identified risks.
The decommissioning project has recently achieved some key milestones, including partial dismantlement of the turbine hall and construction of a solid waste management facility and an interim spent fuel storage facility."The decommissioning of power units with RBMK-type reactors has allowed INPP to gain unique experience that can be systematized and applied in other nuclear energy projects," Janulevicius said. "INPP has a vision to become an expert on safe and efficient nuclear facility decommissioning and radioactive waste management."
Decommissioning is a growing issue worldwide. Currently, 157 nuclear power reactors have been permanently shut down; of these, only 17 have been fully decommissioned. Of the world's 442 nuclear power reactors currently in operation, more than half are older than 30 years and are nearing the end of their operating licenses; those whose licenses are not extended will need to be decommissioned in coming years. The issue will be the focus of a major IAEA conference to be held in Madrid on 23-27 May.