Science and Technological Issues
Finland Far Ahead In Nuclear Waste Management
Finland consumes nearly 17,000 units of electric power per
capita annually; its share of nuclear electricity is about 28 per cent.
Though its nuclear power programme is very modest compared to that of U.S.
or U.K. it is far ahead in its universally applauded plans for nuclear waste
The general refrain of lay public (often reinforced by
antinuclear rhetoric) is that there is no ultimate solution for managing
high level nuclear waste. Finland demonstrates that it has in place a
popularly accepted technological solution.
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Currently, Finland operates four nuclear power reactors with
a total installed capacity of 2716 MWe. It produces about 70 tonnes of spent
fuel annually. Finland has no plans to reprocess the spent fuel.
Finland started its preliminary preparations for its nuclear
waste management shortly before the first reactors started operation 1n
1977-1978. In 1978, the first lot of spent fuel entered the facility for
interim storage at Loviisa.
The Nuclear Energy Act 990/1987 passed by its parliament
stated that nuclear waste generated in connection with or as a result of the
use of nuclear energy in Finland shall be handled, stored and permanently
disposed of in Finland.
In 1983, Finland started screening of potential sites for
spent fuel disposal. Within the next four years, Finnish scientists
started field research in five municipalities for selecting the final
In 2000, they chose Olkiluoto. They plan to dispose of spent
fuel in an underground geological repository. Posiva, a Finnish company
which is entrusted with the job has drilled a 6.5 metre –high, 5 m- wide and
5000m long Okalo tunnel. It has removed over 100,000 cubic metre of rock.
The company successfully located the place where no one
would ever be likely to dig a deep hole later for exploiting minerals
because the place is not mineral-rich. The idea is to abandon forever, the
mostly natural, and partly engineered underground repository after filling
After a few decades of interim storage, the levels
radioactivity and heat of spent fuel reduce to about 0.1 per cent of the
It is then encapsulated in a cast iron insert which in turn
is covered by a 5 cm thick copper canister. Each insert may carry up to 12
They will be placed in neatly bored holes a fewmetre apart
in the underground repository. The gaps between each canister and the hole
will be filled with bentonite clay, which swells by absorbing water.
This clay provides cushioning to the canister in case of
geological movements and ensures that there are no voids through which water
can enter and corrode the container.
Finland hopes to start filling the repository by 2012 and
completing it by 2120. They can cover the mouth of the tunnel and forget
Most of the radioactivity in the spent fuel is due to
They have a half life of about 30y. In 100,000 years, the
radioactivity remaining in the fuel will be negligible. Finnish scientists
proved that 1.5 cm of copper cladding would last over 100,000 years.
Evidently, 5 cm of copper cladding will be more than adequate.
During the period, an ice age may come and cover the area
under 2-3 km of ice. The pressure on the canister due to ice, tightly
gripping bentonite clay and ground water may equal that experienced by it at
an ocean depth of 4.5 km. Finns proved that their copper cylinders will
withstand a pressure three times that before failing.
Waste management cost is manageable. Finland collects a few
percentage of the electricity cost per unit of power to manage the waste and
deposits it in an independent National Nuclear Waste Management Fund,
controlled and administered by the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
The agency estimates and assesses the liability annually. ¨
Finland’s nuclear waste management programme was accepted by people because
the Government took them into confidence at every stage.
Finland demonstrates that nuclear waste can be managed
safely. This issue need not come in the way of harnessing nuclear power.