Approval for world’s first waste site

30 May 2001

The proposal to construct a high level waste repository at Eurajoki, near the Olkiluoto plant (see NEI February 2001, p2) has been approved by the country’s lawmakers. After a two-day debate last month, Finnish parliament voted 159 to 3 with 37 absentees and one abstention. The government had decided in principle to proceed with the facility at the end of last year, but parliament’s ratification was required for the decision under the country’s Nuclear Energy Act.

The decision means that Finland will host the world’s first final repository for spent fuel. Despite claims by the government that there was no link between the repository and a new build in the country, it is certain to help pave the way for a fifth reactor (see NEI January 2001, p20). Finnish law requires nuclear waste to be disposed of domestically. Planning permission applications for a new reactor from both of the country’s nuclear sites, Loviisa and Olkiluoto, are expected to be submitted by the end of the year.

Responsibility for the research connected with final disposal as well as for the implementation of the project rests with waste group Posiva. The company plans to begin construction of an underground rock characterisation facility, Onkalo, in 2003-2004. Investigations at the final disposal depth of 500m should commence around 2006. The facility will be needed to study the geohydraulic, geochemical and mechanical properties of the Olkiluoto bedrock in detail. This information is required in the site-specific design of the repository. The facility also gives an opportunity to test disposal technology in realistic conditions.

The decision is in line with the plan approved by the government in 1983 on the objectives and the schedule of nuclear waste management in Finland. According to these plans, operation of the final disposal facility will start in 2020. Accordingly, the construction of the facility should start around 2010. The construction and operating licences for the final disposal facility will be applied for separately at a later date.

Posiva had submitted the application for the decision in principle to the government in May 1999. The application was based on the results of research and development activities carried out for about 20 years, including a site characterisation programme and a comprehensive environmental impact assessment (EIA). The EIA report was a part of the application.

The public was offered an opportunity to be heard about the application and statements were invited from a wide range of interest groups. STUK, the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority and the municipality of Eurajoki supported the plan. Governor Juhani Niinimaki said: “The storage depot will have great significance for this area.”



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