15 years needed to dismantle nuclear reactor near Bern

Representatives of BKW and the authorities shared information about the reactor's planned closure with members of the community Keystone

It will take 200 employees, CHF800 million ($832 million) and 15 years to decommission Switzerland’s third-oldest nuclear reactor, operating in Mühleberg, near the Swiss capital, since 1972. On Tuesday, details were shared with 450 members of the community.

This content was published on March 3, 2015 - 21:45 and agencies

The fact that 450 people showed up for the first of three informational events shows “how important it is to maintain contact with the community”, said Suzanne Thoma, CEO of the BKW GroupExternal link, the reactor’s operator and one of Switzerland’s largest energy companies.

The process of dismantling and removing the parts of the reactor is projected to begin in 2019. The Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI), charged with oversight of the country’s five nuclear reactors, decided in favour of complete removal, rather than a “safe enclosure”, in which the structure is emptied and the shell is left in place for 50 years.

The first step in the process will be to remove the fuel-containing elements. Their transport in special containers will require around 30 trips per year between 2021 and 2024. Once these have been removed, the radioactivity in the reactor will be reduced by 98%.

Transport of the remaining radioactive material will require an average of one trip per day between 2024 and 2031. The goal is to empty the facility by 2031, and then to proceed with the dismantling of the 200,000 tons of material making up the building’s shell.

According to Thoma, the security standards for the demolition process will be as high as those required for the operation of the reactor, and no negative effects are expected for the quality of life in the region.

BKW hopes to submit the application for the project to the authorities for approval by the end of 2015. A security evaluation would follow, as well as a period for public comment.

In 2013, BKW announced its desire to take the facility out of commission in 2019. A people’s initiative that would have required an immediate shutdown of the reactor was rejected by 64% of voters in the canton of Bern in a vote in May 2014.   

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