Despite harsh criticism from opposition politicians in Parliament on Thursday, the Finnish government has granted Posiva a permit to build a permanent disposal facility for spent nuclear fuel on the west coast.
By law, all nuclear fuel used in Finland must be disposed of within the country.
Posiva, which is owned by the utilities TVO and Fortum, has already been working since 2004 on the Onkalo spent nuclear fuel repository. It is located next to the Olkiluoto power complex in Eurajoki. The encapsulation plant and disposal facility at Olkiluoto is designed to store up to 6,500 tonnes of uranium.
The government attached a number of conditions to the construction licence. Before applying for a licence to begin operating the facility, Posiva must report on the environmental impact of the facility, the retrievability of the spent nuclear fuel, the transport risks involved and any changes in the project.
The final disposal of spent fuel rods from the Olkiluoto and Loviisa nuclear power plants could begin in 2023.
Rehn: Storage technology could be an export product
"The construction licence granted now is the first in the world for a spent nuclear fuel disposal facility," said Minister of Economic Affairs Olli Rehn."Finland is an international pioneer in nuclear waste management, which also obliges us to take care of matters responsibly and safely in future. Finnish expertise also provides us with commercial opportunities in developing nuclear waste management in other countries."
The spent nuclear fuel is to be packed inside copper and iron capsules before being moved into storage tunnels at a depth of 400-450 metres. The disposal canisters are to be packed in with absorbent bentonite clay – similar that used in kitty litter – which is intended to limit moisture and protect the canisters from jolts in the bedrock over a period of hundreds of thousands of years.
Fate of Fennovoima rods uncertain
It still remains unclear whether waste from the Fennovoima plant to be built near Rauma will eventually be stored at the same facility. In the past, Posiva has staunchly insisted that there would not be room for waste from this plant – but that was before Posiva's co-owner, the majority state-owned Fortum, became a major shareholder in Fennovoima last summer.