Finland has a political, principle agreement on what to do with the high level nuclear waste. However, the decision-in-principle approved by the parliament in 2001, is literally a principle decision on how to more forward with the waste plan. It allowes the nuclear waste company Posiva to do site specific studies in Olkiluoto. However, whether the plan is safe enough or not will only be evaluated in the later phases, if Posiva applies for a construction permit for the final disposal facility (on 2012 at the earliest) and later on for an operational permit.
The history of the political agreement
When the existing reactors were ordered, waste was not an issue. It was something that would be solved later on. In fact in 1973 a precondition of the municipality council of Eurajoki in was that they would accept a nuclear power plant to be built to their municipality only if “the waste shall be sent away from Eurajoki”. Consequently the power company TVO promised that HLW would not be disposed in Eurajoki.The directions for the Finnish waste management plan were first set by the Finnish government in1983. The priority was given for exporting the waste. The waste from the two reactors in Loviisa were to be transported to the Soviet Union. For the two reactors in Eurajoki the first option was reprocessing (outside Finland) and secondary option was to prepare for a final disposal in Finland.
It was also agreed that Finland should get prepared for the possibility that the waste would eventually have to be stored in Finland. In this light Finland was to select a site by 2000 and be prepared to start the disposal in 2020. These were dates considered far enough in the future.
The waste from Loviisa was indeed exported to the infamous Mayak nuclear complex in the Soviet Union until 1996. TVO for its part launched its own R&D; programme for the final disposal – including site selection – in 1983.
The selection of the site
The site selection started with 327 possible sites. In 1987 there were 5 candidate sites (municipalities) left, all opposing the final disposal. Olkiluoto in the municipality of Eurajoki was not originally among the alternative sites but was brought in from outside the selection process.
When the site selection started, it was announced the site would be chosen on the basis of detailed geological research. However, it soon became clear that the choice would be made on political grounds.
In 1988 Finland got a new Nuclear Energy Act that gave the candidate municipalities the right to veto. This made the local decision-making and attitudes crucial in the waste management planning.
The detailed site characterisation started in 1992 with three candidate sites, one of them being Eurajoki. There were strong local opposition in all of them. In 1993 and 1997 two new sites were included in the research programme.
Another corner stone
In addition to the new Nuclear Energy Act, another corner stone in the Finnish waste policy was met in 1994, when the Finnish parliament prohibited the export and import of HLW. This meant that from this on the plan was to treat the waste in Finland. The deep burial was practically seen as the way forward.
In early 1990s the nuclear companies had a problem: all candidate sites opposed the final storage. However, in 1994 there was a change of minds in the official stand of the municipality of Eurajoki. Consequently Eurajoki became the first municipality in the world to approve a storage facility for high-level radioactive waste to its territory.
What happened? At least money happened. The small municipality of Eurajoki (approximately 4000 inhabitants) got economic compensation of approximately 7 million EUR and made several financial agreements between TVO, incl. a cheap loan of 14 million EUR .
The importance of having “a solution”
The Finnish industry has been planning for new reactor(s) already from the late 1970s. An application for the fifth reactor was filed for the first time in the mid 1980s, but pulled back in 1986, when the Chernobyl exploded. The industry made its second try in early 1990s, but failed as the Finnish parliament voted against the permit in 1993.
It was then at the latest when the industry realized the importance of having “a solution” to the waste. This was the main reason to stick to the time-line set in 1983, which ruled the site to be selected by 2000.
When the DiP of the final waste disposal was debated in the Finnish government and parliament in 2000 and 2001, the members of parliament were assured that this decision was not about whether the plan was safe enough or, not but about giving the nuclear waste company Posiva the permission to continue with the plan and enter into
site-specific research. The MPs had little possibilities of voting no, as it was just another step in a plan formulated already by the decisions in 1983 and 1994. So even the MPs strongly against nuclear agreed on voting in favour of the DiP.
However, once the decision was made, the nuclear lobby forgot its promises of not misusing the decision and turned the ‘research permit’ into a ‘solution’. This helped them significantly in getting a permit for a new reactor in spring 2002.