(Online Course) Contemporary Issues for IAS Mains 2012: Sci & Tech Issues – Finland Far Ahead in Nuclear waste Management

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
    management.

  • 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.

Finnish Programme


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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
    disposal site.

Final Repository

  • 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
    it.

Canister Design

  • After a few decades of interim storage, the levels
    radioactivity and heat of spent fuel reduce to about 0.1 per cent of the
    original values.

  • 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
    fuel bundles.

  • 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
    about it.

Canister Integrity

  • Most of the radioactivity in the spent fuel is due to
    fission products.

  • 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.


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