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STUK: Nuclear waste facility can be built to be safe

STUK: Nuclear waste facility can be built to be safe

12 Feb 2015 10:00
Press release

In its statement submitted to the Ministry of Employment and the Economy on 11 February 2015, the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in Finland (STUK) notes that the spent nuclear fuel encapsulation plant and final disposal facility designed by Posiva can be built to be safe.

The statement is based on the safety review and assessment conducted by STUK, the purpose of which was to ensure that the requirements of the Nuclear Energy Act are met. STUK’s safety assessment is required for the decision on construction licence that the Ministry of Employment and the Economy will prepare and the he Government will make.  Before the actual commencement of final disposal operations for spent nuclear fuel, an operating licence from the Government is required for the encapsulation plant and final disposal facility (hereinafter the nuclear waste facility). Posiva is expected to apply for the licence in 2020.

Continuous improvement of safety as the leading principle

Posiva submitted its construction licence application in December 2012, after which it has supplemented the material submitted to STUK, due to the progress of planning and the requests for additional information from STUK. The final disposal of spent nuclear fuel is a project that will continue into the 2100s. The continuous improvement of safety is the leading principle in the project.

‘We have already assessed that the operational and long-term safety of the nuclear waste facility are on a sufficiently high level for granting the construction licence. This is a new type of facility, which is why the appropriate approach is to progress in phases and, at the same time, assess and elaborate the designing of the facility on the basis of the accumulating knowledge. For example, we will gain more detailed knowledge about the local characteristics of rock at the final disposal depth once the construction of the facility begins,’ explains Section Head Jussi Heinonen.

In its statement, STUK requires Posiva to continue its studies related to long-term safety and further elaborate on the scenario and safety analyses conducted. Posiva shall improve the Safety Case drafted for the operating licence application and clearly present their grounds for and conclusion on the final disposal operations and safety.

Very low radiation doses

The final disposal must not cause any harmful radiation exposure to people or the environment. In its Safety Case, Posiva analyses a number of different scenarios and related risks and states that if any radiation exposure occurred, the dose would be very low.

According to law, the final disposal may cause an annual radiation dose of no more than 0.1 millisieverts to an exposed individual after the facility is closed. In order for any radiation exposure to occur at all, radioactive substances in the nuclear fuel should be released from the canister and carried in groundwater to the ground surface and, from there, into people through food. Based on the analyses, even in such a case, the radiation exposure would be one 10,000th of the specified 0.1 millisievert limit. The average annual radiation dose received by Finns is approximately 3.2 millisieverts. A 0.1 millisievert exposure is possible during one cranial x-ray examination or one transatlantic flight.

The Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in Finland supervises and evaluates safety during construction

The Finnish Parliament approved the decision-in-principle on the final disposal project in 2001. It is the responsibility of the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in Finland to supervise and ensure that nuclear waste management is carried out safely. ‘After the decision-in-principle, we have systematically increased our nuclear waste management expertise and resources, as well as international co-operation in this area, in order to ensure competent and careful handling of safety matters,’ explains Director General Petteri Tiippana.

The assessment of Posiva’s construction licence application lasted for two years, and the contribution of STUK’s experts was approximately 18 person-years of work. Other experts in Finland and abroad contributed seven person-years.

If the licence is granted, STUK will supervise the construction of the nuclear waste facility and may, as necessary, require changes to the approved design.

‘In addition to the construction of the encapsulation plant and final disposal facility, we will pay particular attention to ensuring that the final disposal system can be installed as planned. This is the first time that this type of facility is built. Therefore, during the construction of the final disposal tunnels, it is important to assess the functionality of the rock construction methods and the classification system and to identify areas for development and possibilities for improving safety. Studies to further ensure the functioning of the copper capsule and the surrounding clay material are also necessary,’ Section Head Jussi Heinonen explains.

STUK’s statement submitted to the Ministry of Employment and the Economy (pdf)
Safety assessment by STUK of Posiva's construction licence application (pdf)
Statement by the Advisory Commission on Nuclear Safety (pdf)
Further information:
Section Head, Nuclear Waste and Material Regulation Jussi Heinonen, tel. +358 9 759 88 679 
Project Manager Kai Hämäläinen, tel. +358 9 759 88 667
Director General Petteri Tiippana, tel. +358 9 759 88 200
Head of Public Affairs  Kaisa Raitio, tel. +358 9 759 88 795

Nuclear safety
14 May 2015 20:10
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