Experts have been dismantling the Muhlberg Nuclear Power Plant for two years. Now the first fuel elements are gone. However, the dismantling process will bring surprises and obstacles to BKW, as evidenced by the on-site inspection.
Perhaps one of the most complex construction sites in Switzerland. Over the past two years, the Muhleberg Nuclear Power Plant has been little by little destroyed and removed. Factory workers dismantled 17,000 tons of material.
The plant has been operating for 47 years. By 2030, workers will completely empty the nuclear power plant. Progress is slow, as shown by on-site inspection. From the outside, a nuclear power plant looks the same as ever. But at home, the plant is being discarded. Highly radioactive fuel elements are still in the power plant. It is stored in a pool of water in the reactor.
The first fuel items have been removed
A few weeks ago, the first transfer left to the temporary storage facility in Würenlingen AG. “The removal of the fuel elements is truly a milestone in the entire decommissioning project,” Stephan Klott, head of decommissioning and decommissioning of the Moulberg Nuclear Power Plant tells SRF.
Disassembly was divided into two main stages: the first with factory fuel elements and the other without. “The sooner we move the fuel elements away from the site, the better for the project as a whole,” Clott says. The transfer will take place in several stages and will continue until the end of 2023.
100,000 nuclear waste bins
Hermetically sealed covers, breathing aids – at full speed, in another area of the nuclear reactor, they dismantle a 120-meter tube, from which steam from the nuclear reactor is used to condense, 11 meters underground.
The steel tube, which weighs more than 600 tons, is cut into pieces and then packed into boxes. Not only is radioactivity sensitive here. Bitumen coating on pipe walls can also release poison.
For this reason, scrap at the nuclear power plant construction site in Muhlberg is not just scrap. The parts are cleaned first with a high pressure cleaner and then with blasting granules. Then, workers use radiometers to check if the parts are really disinfected and clean.
Deconstruction is a multibillion dollar project
At the end of 2019, the Muhlberg Nuclear Power Plant ceased operations. But preparations for dismantling have been going on for years.
The operator BKW had already decided in 2013 to close the power plant. The main reason: that safe boot upgrades would have been too expensive.
But restoration costs a lot of money. BKW estimates the partial decommissioning, decommissioning and complete disposal of highly radioactive materials at around CHF 3 billion. The costs to be borne by BKW itself. But the project is on its way: costs are currently slightly below expectations, says Stefan Klott, head of decomposition at BKW.
Only after such a complex procedure does the material come out. There nuclear power plant scrap is stored in bins before being recycled. “With 17,000 tons of material, we have acquired more than 100,000 boxes,” Klute continues. They are all scanned and provided with a QR code so you can trace the origin – a huge logistical exercise.
Asbestos brings bad surprises
With such a complex project, one will not be safe from surprises. Construction specialists found much more asbestos than expected.
Previous thermal insulation spoils the dismantling schedule, as dismantling in one place was slowed down for months, but other construction sites were favored. Klute: “Conversion is part of the day-to-day business. The flexibility that we can handle the unexpected is the top priority when coordinating construction sites.”
Asbestos residues – they are also removed before disposal. Packed in orange bags, lying in the lounge. Now he is waiting with the rest of the scrap for inspectors from the Swiss Federal Inspection Authority for Nuclear Safety ENSI, who are once again taking radiation measurements. This is also part of the huge logistics.
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