Finland to submit notification of final disposal to countries supplying uranium fuel
Since the 1970s, Finnish power companies have procured uranium fuel for their nuclear power plants mainly from Russia, Australia, Canada and the US. The Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) has now notified the authorities in charge of radiation safety in these countries of Finland’s intention to begin the final disposal of spent nuclear fuel in the mid-2020s. Since normal inspections of nuclear materials cannot be performed after the materials have been finally disposed of, procedures related to such inspections must be specified before the initiation of final disposal.
The Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) maintains a national database of nuclear materials and oversees nuclear safeguards in Finland. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the European Commission control Finnish operations to ensure that they comply with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Nuclear safeguards help ensure that nuclear materials are used for peaceful purposes alone and do not end up in nuclear weapons.
According to one of the principles of the safeguards, the reported nuclear materials must be physically verifiable. However, nuclear fuel deposited in a geological repository can no longer be verified. Therefore, all verification measures must be carried out before the final disposal. By notifying the countries supplying uranium fuel, as well as the IAEA and the European Commission, STUK ensures that all parties remain assured that the uranium delivered to Finland continues to be used for peaceful purposes.
“STUK has developed several measurement methods for nuclear materials, which have been adopted internationally, and now we are creating procedures for new forms of supervision. Safeguards will continue in place when the final disposal facility is closed after approximately one hundred years. It is important that all parties can trust that the authorities have accurate information about the nuclear materials in final disposal and that this information will continue to be accessible to the next generations,” explains Elina Martikka, Head of International Cooperation.
Finnish legislation prevents the import and export of nuclear waste
Safe and secure handling of nuclear waste is a fundamental principle of Finland’s nuclear energy policy. In practice, nuclear power plants must have plans for the final disposal of nuclear fuel before they can begin operating. Since Finnish legislation prevents the import and export of nuclear waste, power companies are responsible for the final disposal of nuclear waste and the related expenses.
Preparations for the final disposal of spent nuclear fuel have been under way in Finland since 1983.
“From an international perspective, I believe it is important that countries commit to their chosen nuclear waste management policy before they begin to use nuclear energy,” Martikka says.
Final disposal facility
Posiva Oy, the nuclear waste management company in charge of nuclear waste management in Finland, is building an underground final disposal facility for spent nuclear fuel, known as ONKALO®. Spent nuclear fuel will be placed in the bedrock, at a depth of approximately 450 metres. The disposal system consists of a tightly sealed iron-copper canister, a bentonite buffer enclosing the canister, a tunnel backfilling material made of swellable clay, the seal structures of the tunnels and premises and the enclosing rock.
There is, as yet, no method for processing spent nuclear fuel that would eliminate all radioactive, long-term waste. Several nuclear energy countries have opted for geological final disposal, since it is considered to be the longest-lasting and safest solution to the question of nuclear waste.
Elina Martikka, Head of International Cooperation, tel. +358 9 759 88 373
Henri Niittymäki, Senior Inspector, tel. +358 9 759 88 236
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