| WUERGASSEN, Germany, July 17
WUERGASSEN, Germany, July 17 Peter Klimmek has
spent his entire career at a nuclear plant in Germany. Next
year, he will retire -- just months before his workplace does.
The nuclear plant in the small and remote village of
Wuergassen, halfway between Frankfurt and Hamburg, has been
Klimmek's passion for the past 37 years.
But by 2014, almost nothing will be left of what once was
Germany's first commercial boiling water reactor. Germany's
decision to shut down all nuclear plants by 2022, sparked by
last year's Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, is a done deal.
"It gets under your skin to see how this plant is being
dismantled," 63-year old Klimmek says, just steps away from a
giant hole in the ground where the reactor vessel used to be.
Work to decommission plants mainly includes removing and
disposing of contaminated material as well as decommissioning
the plants themselves while making sure that no radiation
Spent fuel from reactors needs to be encased and then
transported to safe fuel dumps while cooling towers, often
regarded a blight on landscapes, then need demolishing.
"All that will be left are photos, footage but otherwise
just empty hands," he adds, surrounded by workers in orange
suits that are busy removing parts of the plant.
Klimmek joined the nuclear plant in the small village of
Wuergassen in 1975, when public resistance against nuclear power
was just starting to gain momentum in Germany.
Today, the four operators of nuclear plants in Germany -
E.ON, RWE, EnBW and Vattenfall
- have made a total of more than 30 billion euros
($36.7 billion) in provisions for the dismantling of the plants
and the disposal of nuclear waste.
Germany's No.2 utility RWE estimates that dismantling its
two reactors at Biblis will cost 1.5 billion euros, excluding
storage costs for the nuclear waste.
E.ON, the country's largest utility, sees costs of 1.1
billion euros per plant for both dismantling and the disposal of
MEN AT WORK
But estimates for the total costs of dismantling all nuclear
plants in Germany differ widely due to the complex nature of the
process, with Greenpeace expecting at least 44 billion euros,
while consultancy Arthur D. Little has put the total costs at no
less than 18 billion euros.
However, a year after Fukushima nearly 50 countries continue
to run and build nuclear power plants, but extra risk control
measures imposed in the wake of the disaster are increasing the
cost of operating them.
In March, the World Nuclear Association estimated U.S.
operators are expecting to spend an additional $1 million per
reactor to account for additional post-Fukushima safety
After the accident, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium decided
to move away from nuclear power altogether to grow reliance on
renewable energy instead.
For those who have chosen to abandon their nuclear
programmes, utilities will not be able to do all the dismantling
work themselves, so specialised players may be best placed to
benefit from the need to dismantle, a process that is expected
to last for decades.
France's Areva, Westinghouse Electric Company LLC
- jointly owned by Japan's Toshiba, U.S. engineering
company Shaw Group and IHI Corp - and
Germany's Nukem Technologies, could all satisfy the need for
growing expertise in the field.
"It is clear to us that more work will be coming on the
market," said Ulf Kutscher, chief executive of Nukem
Technologies, part of Russian state-owned nuclear company
The company specialises in the disposal of nuclear waste as
well as the decommissioning of nuclear plants and has experience
in several European countries, including France, where it is
helping with the dismantling of the nuclear power plant in
"But we do not know how much work will ultimately be done by
the utilities themselves. I could imagine that they will do a
good deal of the dismantling," Kutscher said.
RWE, for example, has in the past signalled it may offer
Among other tasks, Germany's Energiewerke Nord GmbH (EWN)
plans and carries out large dismantling projects, including the
remote decommissioning of strongly contaminated parts such as
the reactor vessel.
"As long as the nuclear fuels remain in the plants, the
dismantling process cannot start," EWN managing director Juergen
Ramthun said, adding it could take 5-7 years until all fuel
elements have been removed and the plant is ready for
ENTOMBMENT VS DISMANTLING
Dismantling a nuclear plant until it has completely vanished
can take several decades, depending on which technique is used.
So-called nuclear entombment aims to seal off some
radioactive material for decades to let radiation levels
decline, therefore making the process of dismantling easier at a
Using this technique, the process of fully decommissioning a
plant can take more than 40 years, much longer than the process
of direct dismantling, which usually takes about 10-12 years.
E.ON, operator of the Wuergassen plant, has said dismantling
that plant alone will cost 700 million euros.
"We have decided to choose the process of direct
dismantling," said E.ON spokeswoman Petra Uhlmann.
With a volume of about 423,000 tonnes, 5,000 of which are
nuclear waste, Wuergassen plant's weight is on par with that of
roughly 800 Airbus A380 planes.
After being decontaminated, parts of the plant can be
recycled. For example, the two cooling towers of the plant -
once overtopping the village - were later used to help build a
skating rink in the nearby town of Beverungen.
"There are 640 rooms, that all need to be approved before
they can be broken down. That's equal to 140,000 square metres,"
Klimmek said, walking through a labyrinth of abandoned and
run-down hallways that lead to the former control room.
After most of the control panels have been removed, the room
has the charm of a 1970s office complex rather than that of the
plant's nerve centre.
Outside the giant block of concrete, birds are singing and
flowers are in full bloom. Few would guess that this used to be
a nuclear power plant.
A few months after Klimmek's retirement, the last piece of
the plant will be gone.