Review of Finnish used fuel disposal facility licence begins

18 May 2022

Finland's Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) has started reviewing Posiva Oy's operating licence application for the world's first used fuel disposal facility after concluding the company has provided sufficient material.

A rendering of the underground used fuel repository at Olkiluoto (Image: Posiva)

Radioactive waste management company Posiva submitted its application, together with related information, to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment (TEM) on 30 December for an operating licence for the used fuel encapsulation plant and final disposal facility currently under construction at Olkiluoto. The repository is expected to begin operations in the mid-2020s. Posiva is applying for an operating licence for a period from March 2024 to the end of 2070.

"The first task was to assess whether the material provided by Posiva Oy, which is responsible for final disposal, is sufficient," STUK said. "The result of the assessment was that the material is sufficient to start processing."

STUK said it has now processed and approved the first dataset, which is related to the decommissioning plan for a nuclear facility. "During the first months of the year, STUK has also stated that although the material is sufficient to start processing, Posiva needs to supplement it in some respects," the regulator said. "This is very common in the regulatory handling of the licensing stages of nuclear installations."

According to STUK, Posiva's licence application will take "a few years to process". In a quarterly report for the period January-March this year, project manager Päivi Mäenalanen from STUK said it was impossible to give an accurate estimate of the duration of the work at this stage.

STUK noted that, in addition to reviewing the licence application, other supervision and inspection of Posiva's project will also continue. It said it will continue inspecting construction and installation work carried out by Posiva at Olkiluoto. In addition to STUK, inspections will also be carried out by the European Commission (EC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

"The purpose of international control is to ensure that nuclear materials remain in peaceful use," STUK said. "STUK is cooperating closely with Posiva, the EC and the IAEA to develop reliable methods for the control of nuclear material for final disposal. The final disposal facility coming to Olkiluoto in Eurajoki is the first of its kind in the world, so the control methods will also be used for the first time."

TEM will organise a public consultation regarding the licence application at a later date. The ministry will then request statements from several authorities, organisations and municipalities in the affected area, and provide citizens and communities with an opportunity to express their opinions. These statements and opinions, it said, will be considered when the operating licence application is processed.

STUK will perform an evaluation to ensure that the encapsulation plant and disposal facility have been built according to plans, that the nuclear facility as a whole can be used safely, and that the personnel of the nuclear facility have been trained to operate the facility safely. It will supervise the operation and maintenance of the encapsulation plant and disposal facility throughout their service life. As an important part of its statement, STUK will evaluate the long-term safety of the facility.

The site for Posiva's repository was selected in 2000. The Finnish parliament approved the decision-in-principle on the repository project the following year. Posiva submitted its construction licence application to the Ministry of Employment and the Economy in December 2013. The company studied the rock at Olkiluoto and prepared its licence application using results from the Onkalo underground laboratory, which is being expanded to form the basis of the repository.

The government granted a construction licence for the project in November 2015 and construction work on the repository started in December 2016.

The Onkalo geological repository will be the first in the world for used nuclear fuel. A similar repository is planned at Forsmark in Sweden.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News