According to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the US is seeing a surge of nuclear plant shutdowns for the first time since the late 1990s (when the initial wave of nuclear decommissioning took place). While some of these plants were nearing the end of their planned lives, at least eight recent decommissioning projects came ahead of schedule — a sign that the industry is changing. In fact, nuclear decommissioning is poised to be one of the fastest growing segments of the nuclear power industry.
Nuclear decommissioning is truly a first-of-a-kind industry project. To date, only a handful of US decommissioning projects have reached completion, and there is not yet a recognized industry model for success.
There are, however, some known pitfalls. Utilities can go a long way to better manage their decommissioning projects if they can avoid the following:
As with any large-scale capital project, companies can also leverage technology to better manage finances, resources, and risks — and to drive project excellence throughout the decommissioning process.
The finance aspects of a decommissioning project are particularly complex due to evolving NRC regulations, insurance requirements, trust funds and tax rules. In order to foster prudent financial management, manage emerging issues and mitigate risks, as well as to achieve annual financial targets while preserving Nuclear Decommissioning Trust growth and meeting NRC and IRS requirements, owners and operators should aim to:
"Nuclear decommissioning projects are fundamentally large capital projects and require the same level of upfront planning, strategic assessment, legal review, and project discipline — facilitated through integrated project technology — that would be applied to any large nuclear construction project."
Based on our industry experience working with clients, we have identified six essential elements that can help companies better plan and manage the complex decommissioning process.
- help them transition from working in an operations to a construction environment
- help them change careers, if necessary
- perform due diligence in contractor selection
- develop and formalize a contracting strategy
- Implement contractor oversight once a vendor is selected
- transitioning resources
- delayed approvals for regulatory filings
- public opposition
"Why is nuclear decommissioning so complex? Because each station is so unique, from engineering and siting to stakeholder dynamics, and requires its own decommissioning blueprint. While there are certainly lessons learned that can be applied from one decommissioning project to the next, every owner faces a unique set of conditions and challenges that must be satisfied on a site specific basis.”