IFE’s research reactors have led to increased nuclear safety in our neighbouring countries and around the world and have been key to building the foundation for our leading research in energy and materials.
The Institute for Energy Technology (IFE) shut down the Halden reactor for good in 2018 and the JEEP II reactor in 2019. This heralded the end of the Norwegian nuclear programme established in 1948, and the arrival of a new era, with the decommissioning of nuclear facilities.
In March 2021, the Norwegian parliament, the Storting, deliberated over the white paper on the safe decommissioning of Norwegian nuclear facilities and disposal of nuclear waste (Meld. St. 8 (2020-2021) Trygg nedbygging av norske atomanlegg og håndtering av atomavfall). The white paper sets out the overarching framework and principles for the clear-up of IFE’s nuclear activity. The safe decommissioning of Norway’s nuclear facilities and disposal of nuclear waste is a complex task that involves different segments of society and that will be undertaken over a number of years. The Storting’s deliberations and decisions regarding the white paper define the framework for how the State will address this social mission. The Storting’s decision stated the following: ‘The Storting asks that in the future clear-up of IFE’s nuclear activities, the Government establishes the basic premise that the State is wholly responsible for the clear-up and liable for all necessary costs associated with this.’
IFE and Norwegian Nuclear Decommissioning (NND) have calculated that the annual cost of failing to make progress in this mission is NOK 400 million, and this highlights the need to transfer the nuclear facilities as quickly as it is safe to do so.
The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries, the Ministry of Health and Care Services and the Ministry of Climate and Environment are preparing an implementation plan. It is important to have a comprehensive implementation plan that covers coordination, priorities and decisions in order to ensure the efficient, safe and reliable decommissioning of Norway’s nuclear facilities and disposal of nuclear waste. The plan must ensure that carefully considered decisions are taken at the right time, and facilitate interaction between the different actors (NND, IFE, the Norwegian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, the ministries and the rest of society). It must also ensure that the necessary expertise is established and/or developed through the provision of relevant training/education programmes.
IFE’s main task is to ensure the safety of the nuclear facilities. This includes safe operation, acting on instructions and complying with stipulations issued by the Norwegian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in relation to inspection, approvals and licences, strengthening the safety culture, acquiring, developing and retaining new expertise, adapting the organisation to its new purpose, handling and storing spent fuel, and preparing for the decommissioning of the facilities. IFE’s main priorities are as follows:
- Safety and security measures
- Handling of spent fuel
- Transfer of nuclear facilities to NND
More specifically, this entails the following:
- Drain the Halden reactor of heavy water and fuel – the Halden reactor is still considered to be operational since there is both fuel and heavy water in the reactor, even though it has been shut down. IFE’s goal is to start draining the Halden reactor in 2022 and to complete this in 2024.
- Safeguarding and upgrading expertise – IFE carries out competence-enhancing measures both through recruitment and procuring expertise and capacity to close identified gaps. The efforts involved in safeguarding and upgrading expertise are extensive and long-term. IFE and NND discuss and work together on the appointment of personnel in order to avoid doubling up in their recruitment of expertise.
- Handling of fuel – safe handling of fuel is the most complex task, and is a national priority. The highest costs associated with decommissioning Norway’s nuclear programme are related to the safe and effective handling and storage of spent fuel, with solutions that are in the best interests of current and future generations. IFE has entered into several major contracts with international companies to ensure safe handling of the fuel, and more contracts are in the pipeline. IFE and NND have therefore placed all the fuel-related work in a programme for spent fuel.
- Transfer of nuclear facilities and organisation from IFE to NND – IFE and NND have a joint objective to transfer the nuclear facilities and organisation from IFE to NND in an agreement-based transfer of activity on 1 January 2024. Various aspects need to be clarified and agreed. IFE and NND will therefore establish a transfer of activity programme in order to coordinate and follow up the process.
- Strengthened basic security – viewed in light of the escalated threat level and new security requirements, IFE has strengthened the security of its physical and digital assets in order to protect them from deliberate, malicious acts.
Having appropriate and sufficient expertise is the key to successful decommissioning of the nuclear programme in Norway, and this applies to all government agencies, directorates and organisations involved in this work. Norway currently has very few education programmes aimed at nuclear technology and related subject areas. Bringing in international expertise in the area also has its challenges. It is therefore helpful that funds are allocated for nuclear technology activity in the national budget. IFE and NND are working together to develop the right expertise.
In order for IFE to successfully carry out its main tasks and priorities, it must be clear what requirements need to be met. In Norway, these requirements mainly consist of the owner’s obligations as set out in the Act concerning Nuclear Energy Activities and the associated regulations, and the owner’s obligations under licences and decisions issued pursuant to this Act. These requirements constitute the main part of the holder’s obligations to ensure safety in the broadest sense.
IFE and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries will enter into an agreement that regulates the transfer of nuclear activities from IFE to the State (NND). The plan is for an agreement-based transfer of activity under the terms of the Working Environment Act. This involves the full transfer of IFE’s nuclear facilities, nuclear operations and safety organisation. The transfer is a major transaction that involves extracting the nuclear facilities from IFE, establishing new infrastructure and signing a number of agreements. The Government’s target date for the transfer of IFE’s nuclear facilities and associated organisation to NND is 1 January 2024.
The transfer assumes that NND has been granted the necessary licences, that the conditions set for transfer in the licences of both IFE and NND have been met, and that the agreement between the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries and IFE has been signed. IFE will provide NND with information and expertise for preparing the licence applications.
Until the nuclear facilities are transferred from IFE to NND, both organisations will be involved in the decommissioning of Norway’s nuclear facilities. The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries allocates funds to IFE and NND to carry out the necessary tasks in this respect. IFE and NND have devised a joint strategy and values for the decommissioning of Norway’s nuclear facilities as follows:
Mission: Decommission Norway’s nuclear facilities and dispose of all waste in a way that is safe for current and future generations.
Vision: To realise one of the most difficult social missions of our time, to be an appealing employer, and to be transparent and create value in our interaction with civil society.
Values: Safe, Credible and Responsible.
IFE and NND are working together on prioritising all of the tasks to be carried out by the organisations. The main tasks are largely the same for IFE and NND. Interaction is necessary to ensure progress, safety and the necessary expertise, and to lay the foundation for a cost-effective clear-up.
IFE and NND have entered into a collaboration agreement that regulates the division of responsibilities between them. This agreement is essential for the implementation and development of the collaboration between the organisations in the period leading up to the transfer of activity, and the implementation of the transfer.