Finland approves world's first waste site

26 May 2001

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. 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.

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