Finland 1st in Europe to OK Permanent Nuclear Waste Study

HELSINKI, Finland, May 23, 2001 (ENS) - Finland took an important step toward securing long term, underground storage of high level nuclear waste on Friday, when the Finnish Parliament approved a plan to build a test facility in Olkiluoto, Eurajoki on the country's west coast. If all goes according to schedule, it could be expanded into a larger, permanent disposal site.

Parliament ratified the decision by a majority of 159 to three, which shows that the final disposal project has gained wide political support in Finland, the government said.

The vast majority of MPs backed the plan as being "in line with the overall good of society," including Green MPs who are junior members of the coalition government.

An industry ministry official told reporters that the vote was "a green light for the site in principle and the concept."

A decision to build the test facility was made earlier at the end of 2000 by the Finnish government, and in compliance with the Nuclear Energy Act, the Parliament's ratification was required to implement the decision.

The responsibility for the research connected with final disposal as well as for the implementation of the project rests with private nuclear waste firm Posiva. The next stage in the project's approval will probably take place in 2010, when Posiva is expected to submit an application for construction, the industry ministry official said.

The two Finnish nuclear power plants - Olkiluoto and Loviisa - produce a total of some 70 tons of spent fuel every year. About one fourth of the uranium fuel used in the reactors is replaced annually. plant

The Olkiluoto Power Plant is on Olkiluoto Island in Eurajoki, a municipality on the west coast of Finland where the long term disposal facility will be located. (Photos courtesy TVO)

Posiva will now focus on investigations of the bedrock at Olkiluoto, where in the next few years an underground rock characterization facility, Onkalo, will be constructed. The construction of Onkalo will start in 2003 to 2004, and investigations at final disposal depth are expected to begin around 2006.

The underground rock characterization facility will be needed to study the geohydraulic, geochemical and mechanical properties of the Olkiluoto bedrock in detailed scale.

At public hearings on the long term disposal facility, most of the concerns expressed by the citizens were connected with the possible impact of the facility on environment and health. People want more information in understandable form on whether radiation will be emitted by the final disposal repository and the encapsulation plant where spent fuel will be prepared for transport.

Risks associated with transport of the spent nuclear fuel were raised in public hearings. People wanted to know what would happen if the transport casks were damaged in a rail accident, or how terrorist acts and sabotage can be prevented. Since transports are considered to be the greatest risks, many people think that the spent uranium fuel should be stored where it is generated, in Loviisa or Eurajoki.


Workers check the uranium fuel assemblies in the reactors at the Olkiluoto Power Plant.
At present, the Olkiluoto units generate more spent nuclear fuel than the other units. This means that with the final disposal facility built in Olkiluoto, the need for transports will be minimized. Waste from other units can also be transported to Olkiluoto by sea, Posiva says.

Like many European countries, Finland has been searching for a long term nuclear waste storage solution. It adopted a strategy and schedule in 1983, which foresees a permanent storage facility to begin operating in about 2020.

Whether another European country will eventually beat Finland in the race to open a long term nuclear waste storage facility is uncertain, but with Friday's vote the country has beaten all others in approving a site for development.

{ENDS Environment Daily contributed to this report. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London}