Unlike Sweden, Finland failed to be transparent on nuclear waste burial

The foremost reason is that as the project was being discussed with the public, SKB’s research was found to be incomplete and, in certain cases, inaccurate.

When, in 2011, Sweden’s SKB first applied for a license to build the Forsmark repository, the KBS-3 project documentation was published, which made it possible to give the project a review that would be independent from the nuclear industry’s own evaluation.

In February 2016, a special expert group appointed by the government, called the Swedish National Council for Nuclear Waste (Kärnavfallsrådet), published a 167-page report entitled “Nuclear Waste State-of-the-Art Report 2016: Risks, uncertainties and future challenges.” Among other things, it identifies the repository project’s risks and uncertainties having to do with earthquake impacts, with the long-term prospects of financing and monitoring the site’s condition, and with the health effects of low doses of radiation.

Finland has no such expert body. The concept of the repository, under construction in Euroajoki municipality, is criticized by many Finnish scientists, but the government is not taking notice and is likewise ignoring the scientific objections coming from its neighbor Sweden.


When haste makes risky waste: Public involvement in radioactive and nuclear waste management in Sweden and Finland
 – How did it happen that in Sweden, the country that developed the technology for deep geological disposal of radioactive waste, construction of a such a repository – a first of its kind in the world – has been suspended for recognized risks and uncertainties, whereas Finland, which has copied the Swedish approach, is moving full speed ahead with building one? Bellona has looked for the answer on a fact-finding visit of the two countries. Bellona  August 9, 2016 by , translated by Maria Kaminskaya 

“……..Out of sight, out of mind?

The deep geological disposal concept was first suggested over 40 years ago to solve the problem of spent nuclear fuel, the nuclear industry’s most dangerous byproduct. To a certain degree, this was a continuation of the “bury and forget about it” principle, applied to the less radioactive and thus less dangerous waste – radioactive waste. But where radioactive waste could be placed in shallow trench-type reservoirs or semi-buried near-surface concrete vaults, for nuclear waste, disposal facilities – repositories or burial sites – were proposed for construction in rock formations at a depth of several hundred meters. To date, no such deep geological repository has been created anywhere in the world.

The engineering side of a project for such a repository has been most fully explored in Sweden, where the concept has been under development since the 1970s by the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company (Svensk Kärnbränslehantering AB, SKB). In 1984, the concept of direct final disposal of spent fuel inside hermetically sealed copper canisters embedded in bentonite clay and placed in crystalline bedrock at a depth of 500 meters – the so-called KBS-3 method – was, by a political decision of the Swedish government, adopted as the “most acceptable from the point of view of ensuring safety and radiation protection.” Suggested over 30 years ago, this approach to a possibility of relatively safe disposal of radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel is one that is still endorsed and promoted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The KBS-3 method also served as the basis for the Onkalo Finnish repository, near Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant, and already construction has started there. But in Sweden, where the concept originated, the KBS-3 repository project ultimately sited for Forsmark, near Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant, has yet to receive government approval. SKB has for several years been attempting to obtain a license to start construction in Forsmark, but has been denied permission by a land and environmental court ruling.

The foremost reason is that as the project was being discussed with the public, SKB’s research was found to be incomplete and, in certain cases, inaccurate. It turned out, for instance, that there is significant disagreement over the estimated corrosion rate of the copper canisters – which are considered the main engineered barrier to prevent the escape of long-lived radionuclides into the surrounding environment. SKB asserts the canisters will remain intact for the next 100,000 years, while independent university research shows that copper’s corrosion rate in an oxygen-free environment but in the presence of salty seawater is considerably higher than expected and that the canisters may start to decay within the first thousand years………

Independent science steps in

An independent scientific assessment of a project is made possible, first and foremost, by complete transparency and access to information – and not to the abridged environmental impact assessment statement, but to project documentation detailing engineering solutions that are critical to safety. This access only is what gives substance and meaning to public control over the nuclear industry’s actions.

When, in 2011, Sweden’s SKB first applied for a license to build the Forsmark repository, the KBS-3 project documentation was published, which made it possible to give the project a review that would be independent from the nuclear industry’s own evaluation.

Researchers at a number of universities experimented with testing copper’s susceptibility to corrosion under various environments. It was thus established that copper’s corrosion rate observed during experiments was much higher than that cited in SKB’s calculations. In particular, corrosion was shown to be accelerated by heat and radiation emitted by the radioactive waste that was expected to be disposed of in copper canisters. These were the first tests of such kind since the issue of copper corrosion over hundreds of thousands of years had simply not been taken up by scientists before.

Other facts cast doubt over the KBS-3 project’s safety as well. In February 2016, a special expert group appointed by the government, called the Swedish National Council for Nuclear Waste (Kärnavfallsrådet), published a 167-page report entitled “Nuclear Waste State-of-the-Art Report 2016: Risks, uncertainties and future challenges.” Among other things, it identifies the repository project’s risks and uncertainties having to do with earthquake impacts, with the long-term prospects of financing and monitoring the site’s condition, and with the health effects of low doses of radiation. The same National Council had earlier published reports on copper corrosion and bentonite clay erosion – the project’s two main engineered safety barriers. The council’s reports as an independent scientific body and at the same time one acting on a mandate from the Swedish government played an important role in revealing the KBS-3 project’s flaws.

Finland has no such expert body. The concept of the repository, under construction in Euroajoki municipality, is criticized by many Finnish scientists, but the government is not taking notice and is likewise ignoring the scientific objections coming from its neighbor Sweden. Finnish Parliament member Satu Hassi told the June visit participants that, for instance, one such voice of criticism is the retired Finnish geologist Matti Saarnisto, who believes no suitable place in Finland exists at all for a repository since no safety guarantees can be provided during the next expected ice age………..

An overview of the very deep borehole disposal method on MKG’s website concludes that, “at the present time and with present knowledge, the […] method appears to be a superior solution to the KBS method, and should therefore be investigated further.”

The precautionary principle is not being observed, either: There is no certainty that the copper corrosion rate, the ice conditions, and the seismic risks have been properly factored in.

“Under the worst possible scenario, dangerous radionuclides may escape into the surrounding environment already in a thousand years, the first of the 500 thousand years that the repository, according to SKB’s assertions, is designed for. Our data says radiation levels at the surface in such a case may exceed background radiation levels by 1,000 times. This is unacceptable,” Swahn said.

Based on this and many other arguments, the MKG coalition in May this year submitted a legal brief asking for a ruling denying the application for the Forsmark repository construction license……..http://bellona.org/news/nuclear-issues/radioactive-waste-and-spent-nuclear-fuel/2016-08-21710

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: