A nuclear power plant will eventually reach the end of its life and when it does it must be decommissioned. At this stage the final, and perhaps largest nuclear waste problem arises.

After 30 or more years9 of generating power from nuclear fission, most of the components of the plant have become contaminated and must be treated as radioactive waste. This presents a problem that is enormous in scale and costly in both manpower and financial terms.

The cleanest solution is to completely dismantle the plant and dispose of the radioactive debris safely. This is also the most expensive option. Ahalf-way solution is to remove the most radioactive components and then seal up the plant for from 20 to 50 years, allowing the low-level waste to decay, before tackling the rest. A third solution is to seal the plant up with everything inside and leave it, entombed, for hundreds of years. This has been the fate of the Chernobyl plant.

Decommissioning is a costly process. Regulations in many countries now require that a nuclear generating company put by sufficient funds to pay for decommissioning of its plants. In the USA, studies suggest that the cost of decommissioning a nuclear plant will be around $370 million. The total US bill for decommissioning its nuclear plants is expected to reach $40 billion. When building a new nuclear plant, the cost of decommissioning must, therefore, be taken into account.

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