Finland prepares to bury highly-radioactive nuclear waste
The Finns will get rid of their nuclear waste underground on the lush green island of Olkiluoto, off Finland's west coast. It will accommodate the world's costliest and longest-lasting burial ground, a network of tunnels called Onkalo - "The Hollow" in Finnish. Posiva Oy will attempt to bury nuclear waste for good for the first ever time in the world.
What is nuclear waste?
Nuclear waste is the material that nuclear fuel becomes after it is used in a reactor. This waste, also known as spent fuel, is dangerously radioactive and remains so for thousands of years. As nuclear waste is hazardous to most forms of life and the environment, it is regulated by government agencies in order to protect human health and the environment.
Posiva Oy: An overview
Posiva Oy is a Finnish company headquatered in the town of Eurajoki, Finland. It was founded in 1995 by two Finnish nuclear plant operators, Teollisuuden Voima and Fortum, to research and conceive a method of final disposal of nuclear waste.
Finnish government grants licence to Posiva Oy
Waste management specialist Posiva was granted a construction licence for the used nuclear fuel encapsulation plant and final disposal facility at Olkiluoto. Conditions by the government for the licence included Posiva to analyse the environmental impacts of the facility. The positive response of the government, according to Posiva, was "recognition for the extensive R&D work carried out by Posiva for more than 40 years".
Burying the waste
The spent nuclear fuel will be placed in iron casts which are packed inside copper cannisters. These cannisters will be lowered into the underground tunnels at a depth of 400-450 metres and each capsule will be surrounded by a bentonite buffer, a type of clay to keep it damage-proof and water-proof. Before sealing up the tunnels, clay blocks and more bentonite will be added.
Finland's nuclear waste storage
The €3-billion facility on Olkiluoto will pack up at the most 6,500 tonnes of uranium. Finnish authorities estimate that the facility will be sealed in 2120. Once sealed, it should safely isolate the waste for several hundred thousand years.
International nuclear waste management
Most nations store nuclear wastes aboveground in temporary storage facilities like canisters, within pools or vaults lined with concrete and steel. The first underground repositories were created in 1959, but they are incompetent to handle high-level radioactive waste like spent nuclear fuel. Russia, in the 1960's, injected high-level liquid waste into natural rock formations, outside of purpose-built facilities.
Sweden and France
Having already used a similar engagement process, Sweden's government is currently considering a licence to build a facility using the same technolog around 2017. Besides Sweden, the French nuclear-waste agency ANDRA hopes to apply in 2017 for a licence to build a facility in Bure.
India's nuclear-waste management plan
Sixteen nuclear reactors produce about 3% of India's electricity, with seven more under construction. Spent fuel in India is processed at facilities at Trombay near Mumbai, Tarapur on the west coast north of Mumbai, and at Kalpakkam on the southeast coast of India. Interim storage for 30 years is expected, with eventual disposal in a deep geological depository in crystalline rock near Kalpakkam.