Is There A Silver Lining to Nuclear Decommissioning?

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Nuclear decommissioning has long been at the high-end of the risk spectrum for deactivating and dismantling electric generation facilities. It is distinct from the typical electric plant retirement in that it requires the safe disposition of nuclear waste and contaminated equipment and facilities to restore the plant site to safe levels of residual radioactivity. The process can be fraught with ‘known’ and ‘unknown’ risks as workers operate in contaminated areas and discover issues that cannot be fully known until a plant is ‘opened up.’ Unexpected issues or accidents during decommissioning can result in extensive and costly delays, which can cost millions of dollars, threatening the trust funds that were set aside for decommissioning, as well as the balance sheets of third party purchasers.

Even the best decommissioning estimates are subject to changes in the availability of waste disposal options, outcomes of DOE litigation, changes in environmental regulation, and many other variables that could significantly impact the timing and economics of the job. Nonetheless, decommissioning contracting companies are courting the acquisition and subsequent decommissioning of shuttered U.S. nuclear plants, betting that they can decommission more efficiently and less expensively than existing plant owners, and perhaps more importantly, for less money than what is available through nuclear decommissioning trust funds.

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