Finns to bury nuclear waste in world’s costliest tomb (June 2016)

EURAJOKI, Finland — Deep underground on a lush green island, Finland is preparing to bury its highly-radioactive nuclear waste for 100,000 years — sealing it up and maybe even throwing away the key.

Countries have been wrestling with what to do with nuclear power’s dangerous by-products since the first plants were built in the 1950s.

Most nations keep the waste above ground in temporary storage facilities but Onkalo is the first attempt to bury it for good.

Starting in 2020, Finland plans to stow around 5,500 tons of nuclear waste in the tunnels, more than 420 meters (1,380 feet) below the Earth’s surface.

Already home to one of Finland’s two nuclear power plants, Olkiluoto is now the site of a tunneling project set to cost up to 3.5 billion euros ($4 billion) until the 2120s, when the vaults will be sealed for good.

“This has required all sorts of new know-how,” said Ismo Aaltonen, chief geologist at nuclear waste manager Posiva, which got the green light to develop the site last year.

The project began in 2004 with the establishment of a research facility to study the suitability of the bedrock.

At the end of last year, the government issued a construction license for the encapsulation plant, effectively giving its final approval for the burial project to go ahead.

At present, Onkalo consists of a twisting five-kilometer (three-mile) tunnel with three shafts for staff and ventilation. Eventually the nuclear warren will stretch 42 kilometers (26 miles).

The temperature is cool and the bedrock is extremely dry — crucial if the spent nuclear rods are to be protected from the corrosive effects of water.

Safety questions

The waste is expected to have lost most of its radioactivity after a few hundred years, but engineers are planning for 100,000, just to be on the safe side.

Spent nuclear rods will be placed in iron casts, then sealed into thick copper canisters and lowered into the tunnels.

Each capsule will be surrounded with a buffer made of bentonite, a type of clay that will protect them from any shuddering in the surrounding rock and help stop water from seeping in.

Clay blocks and more bentonite will fill the tunnels before they are sealed up.

The method was developed in Sweden where a similar project is under way, and Posiva insists it is safe.

But opponents of nuclear power, such as Greenpeace, have raised concern about potential radioactive leaks.

“Nuclear waste has already been created and therefore something has to be done about it,” said the environmental group’s Finnish spokesman Juha Aromaa. “But certain unsolved risk factors need to be investigated further.”

In 100,000 years’ time

Planning the nuclear graveyard involves asking the impossible — how can we know what this little island will be like in 100,000 years? And who will be living there?

To put the timeframe into perspective: 100,000 years ago Finland was partly covered by ice, Neanderthals were roaming Europe and Homo Sapiens were starting to move from Africa to the Middle East.

Geologists cannot rule out another ice age. Finland is not particularly prone to seismic activity, but engineers must ensure Onkalo can withstand any tectonic motion caused by another deep chill in the millennia to come.

A 2015 study by the University of Turku warned that in the event of a new ice age, the permafrost could reach some 200 meters deeper than where the rods would be buried.

Posiva’s own research in western Greenland says that when land is repeatedly covered by glaciers or ice sheets, the rock does fracture — but not as far down as the waste.

Nevertheless, Finnish nuclear safety authority STUK has demanded more modelling from the company on the possible long-term effects of a freeze.

Along with the land itself, there is the question of the people living on it, and Aaltonen admits it’s impossible to predict what kind of civilization might be settled there 100,000 years from now.
An unmarked grave?

In terms of protecting the site, the main issue is ensuring the tunnels are backfilled then sealed with huge ferro-concrete plugs, making them completely inaccessible to curious onlookers or anyone seeking to make off with the waste.

For this reason, Posiva is mulling whether to landscape the site as if there was nothing there.

“It is still being discussed if the place should be marked with warning signs,” he said.

But history shows that such warnings often have the opposite effect, such as in ancient Egypt where measures put in place to protect the Pharaohs’ tombs inside the Pyramids were ignored.

“There are examples like in Egypt, where a curse was to fall upon the person who passed a certain door and of course, people just entered there,” he said.

For now, Olkiluoto’s current residents have grown used to living nextdoor to two nuclear reactors, with a third under construction.

Local vegetable farmer Timo Rauvola was sanguine about the plans for a nuclear burial ground.

“Personally, I believe that when (the waste) is placed deep down there with care and expertise, it is better than how it is now around the world — placed wherever.”

Agence France-Presse, 11:27 AM June 7th, 2016,Read more:

Federal Government Expected To Determine Fate Of Nuclear Waste Facility At Bruce Power Next Year (June 2016)

Ontario Power Generation now hopes for a decision about the planned Deep Geologic Repository for low and intermediate level nuclear waste at the Bruce Power site sometime next year.

The proposal is to stash the waste 680 metres underground, but the project was delayed as the federal Environment Minister wanted more information following environmental assessments.

In 2015 an assessment panel concluded the project is not likely to cause adverse environmental effects, and the Bruce Nuclear site right beside Lake Huron is appropriate.

The Federal Government requested additional information this year, asking that alternate locations be studied, along with the cumulative affect of the nuclear waste storage facility near the also proposed used fuel DGR.

OPG will look at the impact of locating the Repository for high level nuclear fuel in the same region and the DGR for Low and intermediate waste.

A site selection process for the used nuclear fuel storage project is underway, with several local communities expressing interest in hosting the facility. They include Huron-Kinloss, Central-Huron and South Bruce.

OPG will look at the environmental effects and the feasibility criteria for alternate sites and study sedimentary rock or granite rock.

They will also study transportation of radioactive waste, acquisition of lands for a new nuclear waste site, and economic impacts.

They hope to wrap up the new studies by the end of the year.

Kevin Powers of Ontario Power Generation put together a presentation for Brockton council on the revised schedule for the project.

He says a decision is expected next year.

OPG feels the Bruce Power site is adequate as the nuclear waste will be stored 1.5 kilometres underground.

By Janice MacKayJune 6, 2016 3:20pm, Blackburn News, as posted at

Nuclear waste storage plan a matter of trust | REPORT FROM US DOE FORUM ON “CONSENT BASED SITING” (June 2016)

Forum participants question regulators’ commitment to safety

BOSTON — Can federal energy officials be trusted to put together an interim storage plan for nuclear waste that provides adequate protection for the population and the environment?

That question was repeatedly asked by those who attended last week’s Boston forum organized by the Department of Energy to get public input on its plan for “consent-based siting” of facilities to temporarily store the 75,000 metric tons of spent fuel from commercial nuclear reactors until a permanent repository is built.

The spent nuclear fuel is currently being stored at 100 reactor sites around the country, including 14 locations where the reactors were shut down long ago , even though the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 required its removal to a permanent repository.

“As a community that is host to this waste, you have our consent to take it,” said Benjamin Rines Jr., chairman of the selectmen in Wiscasset, Maine, where the panel approved a resolution to support the removal of 60 mammoth casks of nuclear waste from Maine Yankee, which was shut down in 1997.

In the Northeast, nuclear waste is stored at Yankee Rowe, Vermont Yankee and Maine Yankee, all closed, as well as Seabrook Nuclear Power Station in New Hampshire and Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth.

“The failure to find a site has resulted in waste piling up in places where it doesn’t belong, like a stone’s throw from Cape Cod Bay,” said Mary Lampert, director of Pilgrim Watch and one of Thursday’s panelists. Pilgrim has nearly 4,000 spent fuel rods on-site.

Panelist Marge Kilkelly, senior policy adviser to U.S. Sen. Angus King, of Maine, favored the plan for “consent-based” interim storage sites. She called communities now storing the radioactive spent fuel “unintentional hosts,” since the waste was supposed to be moved off the sites by 1998.

Panelist Jonathan Raab, a mediator, said “consent” must be defined before the process to establish the storage sites progresses.

“You would probably need a referendum where citizens can actually vote to embrace a repository in their community,” Raab said. “The vote would have to be closer to 100 percent than a simple majority.”

Diane Turco, founder and president of Cape Downwinders, was not convinced. “Do you really think the American people are going to be gullible enough to fall for this shell game?” she asked. “With what’s going on in Plymouth, there is no trust in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or the Department of Energy.”

Ed DeWitt, executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, agreed with Turco. “How do you go from 60 years of inability to find sites for nuclear waste to getting a supermajority to agree to take it?”

John Kotek, acting assistant secretary for the Office of Nuclear Energy, acknowledged the lack of trust in nuclear regulators. A new agency to execute the storage plan would likely be established by Congress, he said.

Lampert suggested the establishment of a state and citizens advisory panel, real-time monitoring for radioactivity, the ability for a prospective host community to get expert scientific guidance and the assurance that parent companies would not walk away from problems, hiding behind limited liability corporations.

Kotek said not everyone was opposed to living in an area where nuclear waste was stored. “You’ve got locations around the country who would welcome this, understand the challenges, but know these things are dealt with every day.”

Andrews County, which covers 1,500 square miles in west Texas and has a population of 17,000, already has endorsed a proposal being made by Waste Control Specialists. The company recently submitted its application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a facility to store 40,000 metric tons of waste at the location, which it hopes to open in 2021.

Holtec International, meanwhile, is working on an application for a storage site in southeastern New Mexico and expects to submit its application by year’s end.

“If not this, then what?” former Massachusetts Energy Commissioner David O’Connor asked forum participants. “Most communities are living with dangerous, unorganized threats. We’ve got to find a better solution than the patchwork default we have now.”

By Christine Legere, Cape Cod Times, Posted Jun. 6, 2016 at 8:11 PM, as posted at

Court upholds storage of nuclear waste at power plants, rebuffing states (June 2016)

A federal appeals court Friday rejected a plea from four liberal states to overturn a regulation allowing long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel at power plants.

The District of Columbia Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) followed all relevant laws and standards when it wrote its 2014 regulation and an associated environmental impact statement.

The rule concluded that spent fuel rods can be stored safely at nuclear power plants indefinitely, which may be necessary if the United States never builds the long-delayed Yucca Mountain waste repository.
“Because we hold that the NRC did not engage in arbitrary or capricious decision-making, we deny the petitions for review,” a three-judge panel of the court wrote in its decision.

The ruling means that NRC can continue to give nuclear plants, both active and inactive, permission to store their spent fuel rods on-site for as long as they need to.

The attorneys general of New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut filed the lawsuit shortly after the NRC voted to make its regulation and environmental impact statement final.

“The NRC’s approach is wrong and illegal, and I will continue to fight to ensure that our communities receive the full and detailed accounting of the risks of long-term, on-site nuclear waste storage that they deserve,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said at the time.

The Natural Resources Defense Council joined to support the states.

The same court overturned the nuclear agency’s previous spent fuel storage regulation in 2012, ruling that the NRC did not properly consider the safety of storage over the long term, like leaks in storage pools or fires. That case, brought by a similar group to the more recent one, prompted the agency to redo its regulation.

But the NRC’s second attempt at resolving the problem appears to have worked.

“We acknowledge the political discord surrounding our nation’s evolving nuclear energy policy. But the role of Article III courts in this debate is circumscribed,” the judges wrote.

“To the extent that the petitioners disagree with the NRC’s current policy for the continued storage of spent nuclear fuel, their concerns should be directed to Congress.”

The Hill, By Timothy Cama – 06/03/16 10:59 AM EDT as posted at

Germany agrees to plug nuclear liability loophole (June 2016)

The German government passed a regulation on Wednesday that aims to ensure utility companies remain liable for the costs of shutting down nuclear power plants even if they split up.

BERLIN: The German government passed a regulation on Wednesday that aims to ensure utility companies remain liable for the costs of shutting down nuclear power plants even if they split up.

Germany decided to end nuclear power by 2022 following Japan’s Fukushima disaster five years ago.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet said it would adopt recommendations made by a commission requiring Germany’s utilities to pay 23.3 billion euros (18 billion pound) into a state fund to cover the costs of storing nuclear waste.

This included a provision that will make all parts of a company liable for the costs of Germany’s nuclear shut down even if the utility has split up, the Economy Ministry said.


Posted 01 Jun 2016 16:45 on Channel News Asia at