The Finnish government has decided in principle to proceed with the construction of a deep geological repository for high level wastes at Eurajoki, near the Olkiluoto plant. The decision has been supported by local residents and the national nuclear safety authority.

Foratom, the trade association for the nuclear industry in Europe, has said the decision to go ahead with the world’s first final repository for spent fuel is “a morally responsible move that deserves the highest praise.” Construction of the repository, which is still subject to parliamentary approval, is expected to begin in 2010, and operation in 2020.

Sweden and the US are working on their own plans for final storage, but Foratom said that other countries need to “address this important issue and press ahead with projects that will isolate this material from the biosphere.”

Commenting on the Finnish decision, Foratom’s secretary general, Wolf-J Schmidt-Küster, said: “This demolishes the old argument of the anti-nuclear lobby that no-one knows what to do with radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel. Such distorted assertions can now be safely disposed of. The safe management of radioactive waste has been ongoing since the start of the nuclear industrial era. Low- and medium-level radioactive waste is managed safely is a way that poses no threat to public health or the environment.”

The European Commission recently published a Green Paper on security of energy, which stated that the stability required for the development of nuclear power was dependent on the waste issue being resolved.

The Finnish parliament will now consider the government’s decision in principle in favour of a repository, and a parliamentary decision is expected in March. If parliament approves the plan, further decision-making will be needed to licence the actual construction work.