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Dismantling nuclear facilities at the CEA

Published on 28 June 2016

​When a nuclear facility reaches the end of its service life, it has to be dismantled and cleaned up. Dismantling involves disassembling all the equipment and ancillary systems on the site. The clean-up phase consists in removing most of the residual radioactivity in the facilities by means of scraping, or the partial destruction of the engineered structures. The waste resulting from the clean-up and dismantling operations is conditioned and then transferred to specific waste outlets.
As a nuclear operator, the CEA is responsible for dismantling its nuclear facilities and managing the waste resulting from such activities. It is also a key player in research on techniques and technologies used in such dismantling operations.

​Each dismantling site
is specific

The specificity of the CEA lies in the broad range of facilities that it operates: experimental reactors, chemistry laboratories, waste and effluent treatment plants, etc. The dismantling of each facility gives rise to a specific case each time.

Depending on the surface area and facility configuration, the equipment needs to be dismantled and the radioactivity removed from the walls, pipes, reactor vessels, etc. Various chemical, mechanical and thermal processes are employed to complete these decontamination operations. If the workers performing these operations are at risk of being contaminated, those must be carried out remotely using robotic devices, often developed in-house by the CEA.

Dismantling strategy at the CEA

The CEA strategy complies with the recommendations issued by the safety authorities: immediate and complete dismantling of facilities whenever feasible, to reduce the risks as quickly as possible and to benefit from the knowledge of operating personnel. All of the CEA actions in this field are governed by French legislation which is backed by specific regulations.

There are 22 civil licensed nuclear facilities currently being dismantled at the CEA out of a total of 43. Around 800 employees have been assigned to these operations which are financed via a specific multi-year fund.

Key clean-up and dismantling
sites at the CEA

The main clean-up and dismantling sites at the CEA are:

  • Grenoble, with the Passage project which was completed in 2012. This involved dismantling an entire site in view of its rehabilitation for R&D activities in microelectronics and alternative energies. A wealth of experience was gained for all players in the nuclear sector.
  • Fontenay-aux-Roses, where site rehabilitation operations are underway to turn the "birthplace" of nuclear energy in France into a site suitable for biotech activities. The dismantling operations are complex considering that the very first research on high-level activity materials for the fuel cycle took place here.
  • Marcoule, where the former UP1 plant - the first spent fuel reprocessing facility - is being dismantled. It is the largest dismantling project in France and one of the most important in the world. This project should be completed before 2050 with the removal of the last waste packages. The dismantling of the Phénix reactor, which was shut down in 2009, will soon start on the same site.

CEA research
on dismantling

To improve safety levels during operations and reduce both the deadlines and costs, radioactive measurements, cutting & decontamination processes, and robotics are all the subject of R&D programmes in collaboration with the industry. Among the technologies developed by the CEA, it is worth mentioning:

  • Maestro robotic arm used for remote operations where workers cannot intervene directly
  • Gamma camera used to visualise radioactive spots in predefined areas
  • Aspilaser designed to strip paints from surfacing using a pulsed laser technique.

Laser cutting
Laser cutting © P.Dumas / CEA

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