On Nuclear Waste, Finland Shows U.S. How It Can Be Done

Jun 14, 2017

By Henry Fountain

OLKILUOTO ISLAND, Finland — Beneath a forested patch of land on the Gulf of Bothnia, at the bottom of a steep tunnel that winds for three miles through granite bedrock, Finland is getting ready to entomb its nuclear waste.

If all goes well, sometime early in the next decade the first of what will be nearly 3,000 sealed copper canisters, each up to 17 feet long and containing about two tons of spent reactor fuel from Finland’s nuclear power industry, will be lowered into a vertical borehole in a side tunnel about 1,400 feet underground. As more canisters are buried, the holes and tunnels — up to 20 miles of them — will be packed with clay and eventually abandoned.

The fuel, which contains plutonium and other products of nuclear fission, will remain radioactive for tens of thousands of years — time enough for a new ice age and other epochal events. But between the two-inch-thick copper, the clay and the surrounding ancient granite, officials say, there should be no risk of contamination to future generations.

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3 comments on “On Nuclear Waste, Finland Shows U.S. How It Can Be Done

  • While secure storage where risks of leakage and terrorist access are minimised, the construction of thorium nuclear generation plants which can usefully burn off some of this waste, would be a better solution for some of it.


    Molten salt nuclear reactor that eats radioactive waste gets funded

    A few companies have continued pushing safer forms of nuclear power in a smaller form, and now one of them is getting the finding to make its plans a reality. Transatomic Power has just picked up $2 million from Founders Fund to develop a custom molten salt reactor that can eat nuclear waste.

    Transatomic is an MIT spin-off founded by Leslie Dewan and Mark Massie that aims to make nuclear power more efficient by focusing on smaller, high-efficiency plants that can be built in a factory and shipped by train to their destination. It’s not just the size that’s getting investors all hot and bothered. Transatomic has designed a system that can use different types of fuel, including materials that are discarded as waste from traditional nuclear plants. We might as well eke a little more power out of it instead of sealing it up in metal caskets for 100,000 years, right?

    Molten salt reactor designs are appealing because they are essentially immune to meltdowns like the one we saw at Fukushima.

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