The Finnish sponsor of the project is Posiva Oy, which is beginning construction work on an underground nuclear waste repository in 2020 at Olkiluoto. The final waste storage facility is to be designed to withstand the challenges posed by nature for the next 100,000 years.
Experts predict that the next ice age may start in Finland in about 6,000 years.
The Geological Survey of Finland (GTK) is also taking part in the core sampling being carried out in Greenland. GTK researcher Timo Ruskeeniemi is coordinating a group that is examining the effects of melt water from glaciers on the bedrock.
"We are in the right place and the corings have been a success. Now we are awaiting the first results with interest," says Ruskeeniemi. "The permafrost probably goes deeper than assumed or has previously been imagined. This is crucial information needed for planning further research."
Permafrost causes concern
The former director of research for the Geological Survey of Finland, Professor Matti Saarnisto, has been highly critical of the final disposal facility for spent nuclear fuel planned for Olkiluoto. He says that planners have underestimated the impact of the permafrost that will penetrate deep into the earth.
"Permafrost will cause massive variations in pressure around the nuclear waste repository, and that contains the seeds of disaster," explains Saarnisto.
Professor Saarnisto points out that it is impossible to make predictions 100,000 years into the future. He claims that important data was ignored in the planning report for the facility.
"The matter of fact is that to some extent all of the research institutes involved are suffering from a hostage syndrome. They see it as essential that spent fuel be disposed of at Olkiluoto, because it has been planned that way for decades. There is no scientific basis for it," says Saarnisto.
Power companies confident
Posiva, which is owned by the TVO power company and Fortum Power and Heat, believes that the studies being made in Greenland will show that a future ice age will not endanger the integrity of a final disposal facility at Olkiluoto.
"We want to show that even though the permafrost goes deep, as the results from our models indicate, it will not pose any threat to the safety of the final disposal facility," says Posiva's Research Director Juhani Vira.
So far, the final disposal of highly radioactive spent fuel from nuclear plants has not been carried out anywhere in the world. According to Timo Ruskeeniemi of the Geological Survey of Finland, the necessary studies still have to be completed.
"That is why the issue is being examined, is there something related to an ice age, something that should possibly be taken into consideration in the construction or location of a final disposal facility? We don't know yet. It is impossible to react to claims at this stage."
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