Finnish digital technologies, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, sensing technologies, material science and nuclear safety know-how are useful as the world's nuclear power plants approach decommissioning.
VTT's newly launched dECOmm project (Finnish Ecosystem for New International Decommissioning Services) brings together Finnish expertise that will prove useful in the forthcoming effort to decommission nuclear power plants both in Finland and abroad. The world's nuclear power plants are quickly approaching retirement.
"Over the next 20 years, around 10–15 reactors will be decommissioned worldwide each year", says dECOmm project manager Tapani Ryynänen from VTT.
This is a multi-billion euro business, as the dismantling and after-care of a single nuclear power plant will take more than 10 years, and the total cost may be up to one billion euros. The Chernobyl-type graphite moderated reactors are the most expensive to dismantle, as they contain vast amounts of radioactive material that is challenging to handle. Finland's Nuclear Waste Management Fund currently holds approximately EUR 2 billion, which should cover the disassembly work and waste management of the current Finnish reactor fleet, but any development activities to make it more economic and timely while maintaining safety are most welcome.
VTT is responsible for the research side of the dECOmm project, and there are currently seven business partners involved. Fortum, Sweco and Delete Demolition have also started their own product development projects to turn their expertise into commercial products and services. Delete Demolition, for example, is developing a demolition robot for nuclear power plant decommissioning worksites in a parallel company-project that is also partially funded by Business Finland.
In-house research reactor as a pilot project
VTT's interest in the nuclear power plant decommissioning business accelerated five years ago, when VTT's own FiR1 research reactor was shut down.
"We have a legal obligation to manage the decommissioning of our research reactor", says FiR1 project manager Markus Airila.
The in-house project can provide valuable lessons to other Finnish companies. The aim of the dECOmm research project is to construct a strong ecosystem during the coming years that could come together and manage even large decommissioning projects. According to Airila, the decommissioning of the FiR1 research reactor and associated laboratory facilities is a good pilot project when aiming for the commercial reactor decommissioning market.
"The rules are the same, but the scale is suitably small," Airila says.
Finland is the leading country in the final disposal of nuclear waste, but countries such as Germany and Sweden, where the decision has been made to shut down nuclear power, are already under way with their decommissioning projects.
Broad spectrum of expertise required
Ryynänen welcomes all companies interested in the field to join the dECOmm project. Dismantling nuclear reactors requires many different types of expertise. Information technology is heavily emphasised in the technology development for VTT's two-year research project. The technologies described in the research plan include building data models, AR/VR and machine learning. According to Tapani Ryynänen, new digital technologies offer major savings potential. The old power plants first need to be accurately reconstructed or modelled into 3D digital format. The worksite also offers a lot of information, such as radiation measurement data, that needs to be made available to all parties and interpreted in an efficient manner.
"Good planning allows for massive boosts in efficiency," Ryynänen says.
In addition to companies from the digital field, the project leaders are hoping that Finnish machinery producers join the dECOmm network. For example, the partitioning of concrete structures in a dismantled reactor is a large contract in terms of monetary value. It might be possible to utilise technology from i.e. the forestry machinery sector for this purpose.
"We want to encourage companies to utilise existing competences in an entirely new area," Airila says.
Developers of functional, commercial products can look forward to entering a lucrative market in the coming decades.
"Resource sufficiency is likely to pose the largest challenge, should the plans to decommission the world's reactors advance as planned," says Ryynänen.
The public dECOmm Open Business Seminar will be arranged on 8 September 2020. Welcome! More information decomm.fi
dECOmm project description
The two-year dECOmm project launched in December of 2019 has a research budget of EUR 1.3 million. It is financed by Business Finland, VTT and the participating companies. The project is building a Finnish business ecosystem that offers nuclear power plant decommissioning services.
In Business Finland funded co-innovation joint actions, companies and research organizations collaborate to develop new knowledge and innovations to serve as a basis for international business activities. Funding is used for enhancing the research organization's competence, and for accelerating the utilization of research data and development of new export products. Co-innovation joint actions reinforce both the Finnish and international networks.
Delete Demolition Oy Delete Demolition Oy's Nuclear Decommissioning Robot product development project is building a demolition robot for use at nuclear power plants.
Fortum In the DecomSurvey project, Fortum aims at making the use of digital tools an integral part of the work processes in nuclear decommissioning to improve safety and efficiency.
Sweco Sweco's Smart Solution for Nuclear Decommissioning development project is building new digital solutions for nuclear power plants at the decommissioning stage.