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Finland's Nuclear Waste Tomb Fascinates and Horrifies World

Finland’s nuclear energy policies are drawing international attention. In May, the New York Times reported on Danish filmmaker Michael Madsen’s new film, Into Eternity, which details the construction of a Finnish tomb designed to hold nuclear waste for 100,000 years.

Kiveen louhittu luola. Luolassa kaksi työmiestä valon kajossa.
Ydinjätteen loppusijoitusluolastoa louhitaan Olkiluotoon. Image: YLE

The world’s first permanent repository for nuclear waste is being constructed on Olkiluoto island on the west coast, some 300 kilometres northwest of Helsinki. The tunnel site has been named Onkalo, the Finnish word for cavity or void.

The underground tunnels, once completed, will house used fuel rods from Finland’s nuclear reactors.

The New York Times has dubbed the facility Finland’s 100,000-year plan to banish its nuclear waste. The headline refers to an expansive system of underground tunnels scheduled to be sealed for 100,000 years by the year 2100, which is how long nuclear waste remains hazardous. Finnish and Swedish nuclear authorities are collaborating on the project, and Sweden is planning a similar facility, but has not begun the actual construction of it.

No person working on the facility today will live to see it completed, states the film’s website.

“When it is done it will corkscrew three miles in and 1,600 feet down into crystalline gneiss bedrock that has been the foundation of Finland for 1.8 billion years,” explains the New York Times.

The site is to last as long as the pyramids to date, meaning the “builders of the site have to take into account the next ice age, when the weight of two miles of ice on top of Finland will be added to the stress on the buried waste containers, copper canisters two inches thick.”

The paper questions the implications of obligating 3,000 future generations to care for the poisonous waste of their ancestors.

“ Onkalo is being built to do its job without human intervention or maintenance. Once it is done and sealed back up a hundred years or so from now, the problem is less with keeping all the radioactivity in than keeping people out.”

The article adds that engineers have “not ruled out the possibility that future technological development will make it feasible to dig all this stuff back up and reprocess it to create more fuel or weapons material, in which case Onkalo will be like buried treasure.”

The New York Times says Finns have a moral duty to warn future generations.

“If the canisters are rediscovered a few hundred years or a few thousand years from now, we can imagine our descendants’ reaction at having been left such a nasty surprise.”

Two power companies, Fennovoima and TVO, were recently awarded permits by the government to build more nuclear capacity. Finland now has four working nuclear reactors, which produce about a quarter of the nation's electricity. A fifth is under construction at Olkiluoto, but is far behind schedule and over budget. Its permit was granted in 2002.

Into Eternity has been playing around smaller venues in Finland this month. It was also recently featured at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

Sources: YLE News, The New York Times

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