Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Onkalo - Finland's ambitious nuclear waste disposal project

Having lived in Finland for almost 7 years, the nation is near and dear to my heart. I am particularly intrigued with Finland’s nuclear policy and their unwavering quest for energy independence. A new documentary film just released at the Tribeca Film Festival called “Into Eternity” by Michael Madsen highlighted the Finns resolute determination to manage their ambitious nuclear program.

The documentary chronicles a place called Onkalo (Finnish for “hidden”), on an island northwest of Helsinki, in the municipality of Eurajoki near the existing Olkiluoto nuclear facility where Finnish engineers are digging a very large tunnel. Finland has been preparing for final disposal of spent nuclear fuel for almost 25 years. When the Onkalo tunnel is complete 10 years from now, it will include 5 kilometres of access tunnels almost 500 meters down into solid bedrock. Onkalo is planned to last 20 times as long as the pyramids have so far and will include an encapsulation plant and final disposal repository.

Forward-looking legislation enacted in Finland requires nuclear waste generated in Finland to be processed, stored and finally disposed of in Finland. It is a common misconception that Finland “dumps” its nuclear waste in Russia, even though there have been numerous offers from Russian companies to store and dispose of Finnish nuclear waste. Finland intends to develop their own comprehensive energy management solution without the need to rely on any other jurisdiction, particular its Eastern neighbour.

Looking ahead to the future, under the current Finnish Nuclear Energy Act, funds for nuclear waste management are collected in advance in the price of nuclear electricity and paid into the State Nuclear Waste Management Fund to be used to cover the cost of decommissioning of nuclear plants.

The Finns have collaborated with many international organisations on this project, including Ontario Power Generation, and regularly invite researchers, scientists and others to share their experience in this ambitious project.

Finnish engineers are not precluding the possibility that the “waste” will be re-excavated in the future for further processing, but in the interim must be totally secure. Finns do not take safety lightly, and if anyone can come up with a workable solution to nuclear waste disposal, the Finns incredible drive to be self-sufficient just might be what it takes to do it.

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