SMELD Project: Pioneering Sustainable Solutions in Nuclear Dismantling


In a momentous stride toward sustainable nuclear practices, the Nuclear Research Centre of Mol (SCK CEN) and the Metallurgical Research Centre (CRM Group) in Liège have officially launched the SMELD project. Bolstered by federal support and European grants, this collaborative venture seeks to revolutionize the handling of metals arising from the dismantling of nuclear facilities.

A Circular Economy Approach:

At the heart of the SMELD initiative is the commitment to a circular economy. With a budget of €13.5 million, the project is geared towards the recycling of metals from decommissioned nuclear reactors. The primary objective is twofold: to significantly diminish the volume of metals considered too radioactive for immediate recycling and yet not radioactive enough for classified disposal, and to reduce the ecological footprint associated with nuclear dismantling.

Reducing Radioactive Waste:

The targeted metal category, falling into a radiation level sweet spot, represents a considerable volume—estimated to be around 15% of the 10 to 15 kilotonnes of waste from nuclear heat exchangers. By implementing advanced technologies and installations, the SMELD project aspires to decrease this non-recyclable waste by an impressive 97%. This reduction not only aligns with sustainability goals but also holds economic promise.

Economic Opportunities:

Secretary of State Thomas Dermine underscores the substantial economic opportunities presented by the SMELD project. With more than 70 nuclear reactors closed down in Europe and an anticipated rise in decommissioned reactors, the economic potential is vast. The estimated €1.3 billion cost for dismantling each of the 40 reactors in neighboring countries could translate into an economic opportunity exceeding €50 billion. Furthermore, industries, including Aperam, have expressed interest in recovering high-value alloys from nuclear dismantling.

Belgium's Strategic Role:

Belgium, with its recognized expertise in both the nuclear and metallurgical domains, is strategically positioned to play a leading role. The collaboration between SCK CEN and CRM Group leverages the distinctive strengths of each entity—SCK CEN's nuclear prowess and CRM Group's metallurgical research acumen.

Towards an Advanced Processing Furnace:

The SMELD project is structured in two phases: fundamental research and feasibility studies, followed by the development of a prototype advanced processing furnace. The furnace, expected to be operational by the end of 2026, will represent an evolution of existing large-scale melting technologies. By enhancing the separation of residual radioisotopes during the melting process, the goal is to significantly increase the quantity of recycled and repurposed metals.

Embracing Sustainability:

SMELD not only aims to redefine nuclear dismantling but also embodies Belgium's commitment to sustainability and technological advancement. As the project progresses into the pre-industrial phase, it invites industrial partners to join in this transformative journey. SMELD stands as a testament to the power of collaboration, innovation, and a shared vision for a more sustainable future in the realm of nuclear activities.