IAEA sees Finnish commitment to safe radwaste management

13 December 2022

Finland is committed to the safe, secure and sustainable management of radioactive waste as it nears completion of the world's first geological disposal facility for used fuel, an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team of experts has concluded.

The Artemis team visited the Onkalo repository for used fuel (Image: David George Bennett / IAEA)

The IAEA sent an Integrated Review Service for Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management, Decommissioning and Remediation (Artemis) mission to Finland at the request of the country's government.

Artemis missions provide independent expert opinion and advice, drawn from an international team of specialists convened by the IAEA. Reviews are based on the IAEA safety standards and technical guidance, as well as international good practices.

A team - comprising experts from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Switzerland, the UK and the USA, as well as three IAEA staff members - completed a twelve-day mission to Finland on 9 December. The mission was hosted by Finland's Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment (MEAE).

The review team held meetings with officials from the MEAE, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, and the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority. The team also met with Fortum Heat and Power Oy, Teollisuuden Voima Oyj, Posiva Oy, the VTT Technical Research Centre, and the University of Helsinki.

During the mission, the team visited the Onkalo geological disposal facility for used fuel, under construction at Olkiluoto.  The underground repository is scheduled to be operational around 2025. The team observed the ongoing preparations that will lead to a fully operational geological disposal facility at the site.

The team noted that Finland also manages and disposes of low- and intermediate-level waste from the operation of its nuclear power plants, has effectively planned for future decommissioning, and safely manages waste generated from the use of radiation sources in medical and industrial applications. The review team noted Finland's clear strategy to meet its climate change goals which includes the safe management of radioactive waste in a manner that will protect the environment and future generations.

"Finland is effectively implementing their national strategy including developing a geological disposal facility for spent fuel, which would be the first-of-a-kind facility when taken in operation," said review team leader John Tappert, Director, Division of Risk Analysis, Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. "This peer review, by independent international experts, is a timely reconfirmation of Finland's commitment to a safe and effective radioactive waste and spent fuel management programme."

To maintain and further enhance the safe and responsible management of radioactive waste and used fuel in Finland, the team made several recommendations and suggestions, including: the government should consider improving consistency of the legislation to reduce the complexity of regulation and management of all radioactive waste; the government should consider continuously evaluating the suitability of the current policy and strategy for radioactive waste and used fuel management against the anticipated future demands of the Finnish Climate and Energy Strategy; and the government should consider assessing resources to govern the national programme on radioactive waste and used fuel management in Finland and considering the need for redundancy in competence.

"The Artemis peer review was conducted by a highly experienced international team," said Liisa Heikinheimo, Deputy Director General, Energy Department of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment. "The outcome of the review supports our national spent fuel and radioactive waste management solutions and provides some valuable suggestions for the future. The review is especially important for our progress with the first operating licence for Posiva's spent nuclear fuel repository at Onkalo."

The final mission report will be provided to the Finnish government in around two months.

Finland has five nuclear reactors - two at Loviisa and three at Olkiluoto - generating about one-third of its electricity. Its first commercial nuclear power reactor - Loviisa unit 1 - began operating in 1977.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News