Finland to proceed with research reactor decommissioning following return of fuel to USA18 February 2021
On 10 February 2021, the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT) submitted a letter to Finland’s Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment amending its 2017 application to decommission the FiR 1 research reactor in Otaniemi, according to a Ministry press release. The amendment concerns the return of the reactor’s used fuel to the USA according to a programme agreed in the 1960s, which means used fuel management will no longer be included in the licence application.
“I am pleased that the fuel partly used in the Otaniemi reactor can be utilised in the same type of research reactor in the US. The correspondence and negotiations held in autumn 2020 will ensure the safe use and care of the fuel in future,” said Minister of Economic Affairs Mika Lintilä.
VTT is responsible for the decommissioning and dismantling of the Otaniemi research reactor - the first dismantling project undertaken in Finland, and lessons learned will be applied to similar projects and application procedures in future.
The Ministry will submit VTT’s application to the government for consideration in spring and after the government grants authorisation, VTT can proceed with dismantling of the reactor at Espoo’s Otaniemi campus area. VTT has already concluded an agreement under which Fortum Power and Heat Oy will manage the dismantling waste at its power plant in Loviisa.
Finland acquired a research reactor from the USA in 1960 and since 1962 it has been used for education, research, isotope production and other services. It was also used for radiation therapy from 1999 to 2012 before being permanently shutdown in 2015. Since then, VTT has prepared for decommissioning and has arranged for safe storage and final disposal of the fuel and waste generated in the dismantling.
VTT’s first option was to return the fuel to the USA and this has ben in preparation for years in accordance with a US Department of Energy (DOE) programme, the Ministry noted. In November, VTT concluded an agreement with the US Geological Survey (USGS) and the used fuel was sent to USGS in December. USGS received the fuel in January and is responsible for its management until it is transferred to DOE for final disposal.
The USGS has a similar TRIGA research reactor at its Denver site, similar to the Otaniemi FiR 1 reactor. The transport of fuel was supervised by the Finnish Radiation Safety Agency (STUK) and by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and US Department of Transport.
Also on 10 February VTT issued a press release on the fuel transfer. VTT noted that the reactor in Denver can continue operating for several years using the fuel received from Finland and the USA will be responsible for its disposal. The dismantling of the FiR 1 reactor will begin at the end of 2022, VTT said.
“The removal of used fuel is an important milestone in the decommissioning of the research reactor. Next, we will focus on the final planning of and preparation for dismantling. The project will result in new expertise in Finland, for which there is also international demand," said Project Manager Markus Airila. The government licence to decommission the reactor will now exclude used fuel.
Arranging used fuel management abroad is an exception permitted by the Finnish Nuclear Energy Act. Before sending the fuel, Finland received a report from the US authorities on their commitment to its management. When the USGS ceases to use its reactor, it will deliver the used fuel to the Idaho National Laboratory and DOE will take care of the fuel through a procedure that meets VTT's previous plans.