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A major responsibility: decommissioning nuclear power plants

What happens when a nuclear power plant is “taken off the grid”?

Once a nuclear power plant has been taken off the grid, the burned-out fuel elements are still on site. In the post-operational phase, which lasts around five years, the fuel elements are removed from the plant into the intermediate on-site storage facility. At the same time, other parts of the plant, such as the cooling towers, generator transformers and turbines, and the generator in pressurised water reactors, are also dismantled. 

In the reactor building itself, the dismantling of various components and the initial decontamination work are the main focus in preparing for decommissioning. It takes an estimated ten to 15 years to decommission the nuclear elements once the post-operational phase has been completed. The aim of the decommissioning process is to return it to a greenfield site, i.e. permitting the unrestricted use of the site once the power plant is gone.

Health and safety are of the highest priority during the entire project

No component leaving the grounds of the nuclear power plant and returning to the materials cycle can have radiation above safe levels. Because most of the tasks are carried out by the same experts who were involved in the construction and operation of the power plant, the necessary expertise for the decommissioning of nuclear power facilities is available to RWE and to the partner companies it works with. Where necessary, devices such as robots are used that have been specifically developed for this purpose. 

The health and safety of the employees are always our highest priority. All of the work is organised and carried out in such a way that the radiation exposure for the on-site employees is kept as low as possible. Once the fuel elements have been transported away from the reactor area, the radioactivity level decreases by almost 99 %. Employees, equipment and the surrounding area are regularly tested for any radiation exposure.