By Sam Rose
The Organ as a Nuclear Reactor, the Body as the Sea
When they have served their purpose and are retired, assets need to be decommissioned, just like any nuclear installation. Decommissioning is the dismantling, removal and disposal of the structures forming part of those assets and their associated infrastructure. Old, decommissioned equipment and other items should be removed whenever possible.
The decommissioning process can, effectively, be described as construction in reverse.
How Much Decommissioning is Happening?
The growing number of ageing assets has resulted in increased decommissioning activity worldwide. The Coming Decommissioning Wave is a significant opportunity for service providers and operators experienced in decommissioning/abandonment operations.
Operators may choose to decommission assets for a variety of reasons, such as the prohibitive costs of extending their lifetime for continuing operation. Not decommissioning idle assets, or doing so improperly, can result in their structural deterioration and an increased risk for people and the environment. There is a need to decommission idle wells and idle platforms that could contribute to future environmental disasters. When an asset completely gives in, it may be time to consider decommissioning.
Who is Involved? A decision is taken by project participants to decommission assets in accordance with applicable regulations. They are well prepared to handle decommissioning safely and securely. The working group will provide a forum for expert discussion on this decommissioning. Local companies are also eager to participate in the decommissioning. However, overall, increased levels of liability for decommissioning are placed squarely on current operators.
Planning a Decommissioning
Advanced planning is critical for ensuring the successful implementation and delivery of a decommissioning project. An action plan is needed irrespective of whether operators and authorities decide to decommission an existing reactor now or much later in the future. It’s important as we’re considering decommissioning options to consider each platform individually and look at the types of species that are productive there. Operators seeking to undertake decommissioning are required to liaise with various regulators in order to obtain requisite approvals.
Preparing the Site for Decommissioning
An important step before the decommissioning process can begin is the removal of all fuel and radioactive sources from the premises. Following the cessation of production, the asset must be physically disconnected from any reservoir and action taken to ensure that the reservoir itself is isolated from the environment. All equipment on the asset must then be cleaned in order to reduce hazards associated with decommissioning such as removal of hydrocarbons, hazardous waste, asbestos, etc. Certain jurisdictions require parties to monitor the sites in order to ensure that no issues arise after all decommissioning activities have been completed.
The Cost of Decommissioning
Decommissioning is a costly exercise, particularly where deep-water assets are involved. Estimating the costs for decommissioning is one of the most difficult parts of the planning process. Decommissioning generally provides no return on investment.
Example Decommissioning Projects
1. A plant was decommissioned, with two towers, albeit inactive, remaining an infamous sight. The decommissioning process involved taking apart the equipment piece by piece. Once the decommissioning process was complete, a survey of the site took place. Results showed that the decommissioning was successful.
2. A bill was passed allowing for decommissioned oil rigs to be turned into reefs as an alternative to being completely removed. A decommissioned platform would house a large mariculture research program.
Decommissioning Risks, Impact and Aftermath
The impact of developing, operating and ultimately decommissioning is likely to be devastating for the environment, ecology and wildlife of this precious area. Decommissioning poses an imminent challenge, as marine pollution and dumping of waste are both major concerns in the context of decommissioning. Decommissioning has potentially large-scale environmental impacts ranging from the loss of biodiversity and destruction of seabed habitats, to the release of hazardous materials which may also pose a threat to human life. Decommissioning contains specific risks that insurers and operators need to take into consideration such as heavy lift risk, damage to property not intended for decommissioning, as well as removal of wrecks or debris. A successful decommissioning project is generally regarded as one that has been completed in a safe and cost-effective manner, with minimal environmental impact.
I am a three-time cancer survivor and a PhD student researching the role of creative writing in self-care applications for cancer survivors. My research is a practice-led, autoethnographic study based on my writing around my own cancer experiences.
In “Decommissioning of the Womb”, I took lines from several online articles about decommissioning nuclear reactors, oil platforms and elevators and reframed them into the context of a woman having a hysterectomy – a womb being “decommissioned”. My resources are listed at the end of the piece.
Sam Rose is a writer from Northamptonshire and the editor of Peeking Cat Literary. She is a three-time cancer survivor and a PhD student, researching the connection between creative writing and cancer survivorship issues. She has been published in over 50 literary magazines and anthologies. Her memoir Gut Feelings: Coping With Cancer and Living With Lynch Syndrome was published in 2021. Find her at https://www.writersam.co.uk and on Twitter @writersamr.