Life cycle environmental impacts of decommissioning Magnox nuclear power plants in the UK

Steve Wallbridge, Anthony Banford, Adisa Azapagic

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    Purpose: Full life cycle assessment (LCA) impacts from decommissioning have rarely been assessed, largely because few sites have been decommissioned so that the impacts of decommissioning are currently uncertain. This paper presents the results of an LCA study of the ongoing decommissioning of the Magnox power plant at Trawsfynydd in the UK. These results have been used to estimate the potential environmental impacts for the whole UK Magnox fleet of 11 reactors that will have to be decommissioned during this century. Methods: The functional unit is defined as 'decommissioning one Magnox power plant'. The system boundary considers all stages in the life cycle of decommissioning, including site management, waste retrieval, plant deconstruction, packaging and storage of intermediate- and low-level wastes (ILW and LLW). High-level waste, i.e. waste fuel is excluded as it was being removed from the site to be reprocessed at Sellafield. The environmental impacts have been estimated using the CML 2001 methodology. Primary data have been sourced from the Trawsfynydd site and the background from Ecoinvent. Results and discussion: Most impacts from decommissioning are due to the plant deconstruction (25-75 %) and ILW storage and disposal (25-70 %). For the example of global warming potential (GWP), estimated at 241 kt CO2 eq./functional unit, or 3.5 g CO2 eq./kWh of electricity generated during the lifetime of the plant, 55 % of the impact is from plant deconstruction and 30 % from ILW disposal. The results for the whole UK Magnox fleet indicate that the impacts vary greatly for different sites. For example, the GWP ranges from 0.89 to 7.14 g CO2 eq./kWh. If the impacts from storage of waste fuel at Sellafield are included in the estimates, the GWP increases on average by four times. Overall, decommissioning of the UK Magnox reactors would generate 2 Mt of CO2 eq. without and 11 Mt of CO2 eq. with the waste from Sellafield. This represents 0.4 and 2 % of the total UK annual emissions, respectively. Conclusions: The impacts of decommissioning can vary greatly at different sites depending on the amount of waste and electricity generated by the plants. Delaying decommissioning to allow the energy system to decarbonise could reduce the environmental impacts, e.g. GWP could be reduced by 50 %. The impacts could also be reduced by reducing the volume of waste and increasing recycling of materials. For example, recycling 70 % of steel would reduce the impacts on average by 34 %. © 2012 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)990-1008
    Number of pages18
    JournalInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013


    • Decommissioning
    • Life cycle environmental impacts
    • Magnox reactors
    • Nuclear waste


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