“How did you manage to do it?”
When it comes to final disposal, Finland and Sweden are more or less seen as oddities. In many other countries, the progress of final disposal programmes has been hampered by problems relating to matters such as selection of location, provision for the associated costs and political decision-making. In the North, however, the processes have progressed to the licensing phase, and the implementation of the plans is about to begin.
In 1983, there was hardly a person in Finland who imagined that Finland would be the first country in the world to begin the final disposal of spent nuclear fuel. More than 30 years have passed since Finland set the first outlines and target schedules for the nuclear waste management operations to be carried out by nuclear power companies. Now, with the granting of the construction licence just around the corner, those plans are still valid.
“At that time, we thought that bigger countries would be the first to begin final disposal and that Finland would be able to utilise proven technology. However, at this point, many of those bigger countries are just beginning preparations for final disposal,” says Juhani Vira, Corporate Adviser at Posiva.
By the end of the last millennium, final disposal programmes had stalled in many countries due to difficulties relating to the selection of the location of the disposal site. Furthermore, as many countries utilising nuclear power had forgotten to provide for the costs of final disposal, plans were in many cases postponed more or less indefinitely.
“The progress made in Sweden and Finland was considered freakish, and many thought that the programmes would sooner or later stall here, too,” says Vira.
There is no simple answer
During his years at Posiva, Vira has followed closely the final disposal programmes underway in Finland and elsewhere in the world. According to him, the people at Posiva are regularly asked questions such as “How did you manage to do it?” and “What can we do to unlock the situation in our country?”
Vira says that there are still people who doubt the eventual success of Finland’s disposal programme. However, the incredulous wonder so often expressed in the past has been replaced by an active interest in the subject.
“I have to keep repeating that unfortunately, there is no real secret to Finland’s progress in this respect. We have been making systematic progress, step by step, for over three decades now. Elsewhere, there has been a tendency to cut corners. For example, many countries have decided on the location of the disposal sites in ways that the citizens did not consider fair.”
According to surveys, even in Finland, many still doubt the long-term safety of final disposal. However, Vira says that the implementation of the disposal plans has garnered wide acceptance in the vicinity of Olkiluoto as well as around the nation. This has been in evidence in the political decision-making as well as in the general discussion on the subject.
“Many members of the Finnish Parliament thought that the 2001 decision-in-principle represented a logical continuation of the policy agreed upon in 1983 and that it was in compliance with the requirements of the Nuclear Energy Act. Whilst many of them may have been uncertain about the long-term safety of final disposal, they nevertheless thought that it was better to continue with the implementation of the disposal plans than just to hope for a better solution to emerge in the future.”
“I would imagine that many citizens think along those lines, too. I have heard many a Joe or Jane Public say: ‘Well, you have to do something about it, don’t you?’”, Vira concludes.