IAEA launches initiative to advance technological innovations in nuclear decommissioning

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The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) launched a global measure to boost new and emerging technologies’ role in decommissioning nuclear facilities.

With over 200 nuclear power reactors shut down for decommissioning and several of the 438 still operating worldwide, expected to phase out over the next few decades, the industry is looking to streamline the process.

In a statement, the IAEA said the initiative is a collaborative project among organisations involved in the planning or execution decommissioning and related research activities. The project aims to disseminate knowledge about new and emerging digital tools and technologies used in data management, decommissioning planning, licensing, and execution. 

IAEA stated that decommissioning is undergoing a technological revolution involving cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), automation, and digitalisation. The International Conference on Nuclear Decommissioning, which will take place in May 2023, will also cover essential topics in this area.

“The aim of the project is to work collaboratively, harnessing the expertise of a diverse range of organizations involved in decommissioning to fully realize the potential of a new and emerging technologies in this sphere,” IAEA’s Division of Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Technology Head Olena Mykolaichuk said. 

According to the IAEA, a significant amount of decommissioning work is currently underway and is anticipated to occur as power plants reach the end of valuable and profitable operations, even though many nuclear power reactors are undergoing life extensions. Decommissioning must be managed effectively to keep nuclear power viable, the organisation added.

IAEA predictions show that between 12 and 25 per cent of the nuclear electrical generating capacity of 2020 should be retired by 2030. Globally, 203 nuclear power reactors have been shut down for decommissioning thus far, with 21 wholly shut down. Additionally, about 450 research reactors and more than 150 fuel cycle facilities have been shut down.

As explained by the IAEA, decommissioning is a multidisciplinary process that usually takes a decade or longer for nuclear power plants. It can take several decades for extensive nuclear fuel cycle facilities or in situations where deferred dismantling strategies are being used. The facility and the area are characterised physically and radiologically, and the plant and building structures are decontaminated and dismantled in preparation for the site’s eventual reuse for another purpose. Hence, it must be carried out safely, affordably, and sustainably, considering any potential uses of the site in the future.

By allowing experts to better plan and execute nuclear-decommissioning projects, the IAEA said digitalisation is anticipated to play an increasingly significant role in their advancement.

“The application of digital information models brings significant benefits for decommissioning of older facilities with associated uncertainties about the precise configuration of the facility and the hazards that may be involved,” Sellafield Limited’s Decommissioning Technology and Information Manager Mike Guy stated. 

According to the IAEA, working groups were formed on digital tool selection for a variety of different decommissioning challenges during planning and implementation; technologies for converting unstructured legacy data into a structured format linked to a digital model of the facility; and emerging technologies for the generation of detailed digital models from Point Cloud data including the use of automated digital tools. 

Globally, especially in major programs, the organisation said that decommissioning projects increasingly use 3D modelling and simulations to help plan the dismantling of various nuclear facilities. 

The IAEA stated that it includes initiatives being carried out by institutions recognised as IAEA Collaborating Centers for Decommissioning. These latter organisations include France’s Electricit√© de France’s Decommissioning and Waste Management Directorate; Norway’s Institute of Energy Technology; the Slovak Nuclear and Decommissioning Company; Italy’s Decommissioning and Radioactive Waste Management Company; and the Atomic Energy Agency of Japan.

The IAEA International Conference on Nuclear Decommissioning: Addressing the Past and Ensuring the Future will offer a forum to tackle accomplishments, difficulties, and lessons learned, as well as strategies and approaches that can facilitate and improve the safe, secure, and cost-effective implementation of the national decommissioning programs.

A special session on perspectives on improving decommissioning effectiveness and efficiency will be part of the conference. This session will cover the application of current innovations, best practices, and technologies from other industries. As part of the conference, an exhibition will feature exhibits on innovation in decommissioning, particularly in digitalisation, artificial intelligence, and robotics.

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