Articles | Volume 2
Conference Abstract
06 Sep 2023
Conference Abstract |  | 06 Sep 2023

Lessons for the organization of nuclear decommissioning from the UK and the US: risks, challenges, and opportunities

Alexander Wimmers and Christian von Hirschhausen

With more and more nuclear power plants (NPPs) reaching the end of their operational lifetimes, nuclear decommissioning is set to become a challenge of increasing significance for the nuclear industry and regulators alike (Laraia, 2018). Until today, only a handful of commercial NPPs have been fully decommissioned, while most decommissioning projects last several years to decades (Schneider et al., 2022). While technical expertise is being steadily increased as more and more projects enter the decommissioning phase, literature on the organization of nuclear decommissioning is limited. Previous research highlights the necessity of further insight into the various organizational models that have been implemented in different countries such as Germany, the UK, and the US, amongst others (Wimmers et al., 2023). In the present paper, we highlight the discrepancies between two market-based organizational models in the UK and the US. First, we investigate the implementation and failure of the UK's “parent body organization” model and the subsequent return to state-run decommissioning of the legacy fleet. By further analyzing the market-based approach in the US, especially focusing on emerging decommissioning specialists, we derive risks, challenges, and opportunities of market-based and state-run decommissioning approaches. Most notably, we find that market-based approaches carry the risk of information asymmetry and high transaction costs, although this strongly depends on the implementation (Williamson, 1975; Beckers et al., 2012). One major challenge is to secure financial liability from nuclear operators (Lordan-Perret et al., 2021). This issue is also complex regarding state-run decommissioning, but in that case the financial burden will ultimately lie with taxpayers. But market-based approaches, when compared to state-run organization, might bring advantages through economies of scale and learning effects that could lead to safer, faster, and more cost-efficient decommissioning of NPPs, unless supply chain bottle necks occur, although no evidence of this could be identified. Given the rising significance of nuclear decommissioning in the future, policy makers must focus their attention on implementing regulation that allows for efficient decommissioning, which, as our paper shows, depends on country-specific organization of industry, regulation, and governance.

Financial support

This research has been supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (grant no. 423336886).


Beckers, T.,Gizzi, F., and Jäkel, K.: An Approach to Analyze `System Goods' – Classification, Presentation, and Application, 2021–02, WIP-Working Paper, Berlin: Workgroup for Infrastructure Policy (WIP), Technische Universität Berlin, 2012. 

Laraia, M.: Nuclear Decommissioning, Vol. 66, Lecture Notes in Energy, Cham: Springer International Publishing,, 2018. 

Lordan-Perret, R., Sloan, R. D., and Rosner, R.: Decommissioning the U.S. Nuclear Fleet: Financial Assurance, Corporate Structures, and Bankruptcy, Energy Policy, 154, 112280,, 2021. 

Schneider, M., Froggatt, A., Hazemann, J., von Hirschhausen, C., Ramana, M. V., Wimmers, A. J., Sailer, M., Schneider, N., Suzuki, T., Stienne, A., Meinass, F., and Verbruggen, A.: World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2022, Paris: Mycle Schneider Consulting, (last access: 6 October 2022), 2022. 

Williamson, O. E.: Markets and Hierarchies, Analysis and Antitrust Implications: A Study in the Economics of Internal Organization, New York: Free Press, ISBN 9780029353608, 1975.  

Wimmers, A., Bärenbold, R., Bah, M. M., Lordan-Perret, R., Steigerwald, B., von Hirschhausen, C., Weigt, H., and Wealer, B.: Decommissioning of Nuclear Power Plants: Regulation, Financing, and Production, DIW Data Documentation 104, Berlin: DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research, (last access: 17 March 2023), 2023. 

Short summary
With nuclear decommissioning moving out of niche research, questions on optimal organizational models arise. We compare the former market-based UK parent body organization model (now changed to a state-organized model) to the approach in the USA, which see an emergence of specialized actors in the field. We find that market-based approaches may bring advantages in terms of efficiency but also bear the risk of information asymmetry, high transaction costs, and financial liability issues.