Finland's false hope for Australia's nuclear future

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Premier Weatherill is using Finland's nuclear waste dump model as a benchmark for Australia but they are not comparable, says Noel Wauchope.

SOUTH AUSTRALIAN PREMIER Jay Weatherill has gone to Finland to study their nuclear waste storage project.

With the premier are three stalwarts of the mining and nuclear lobbies: marketing man Bill Muirhead, chief executive of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Consultation and Response Agency (CARA) Advisory Board Madeleine Richardson and chair of CARA John Mansfield

Unsurprisingly, they all seemed to have no anxieties about nuclear waste disposal. 

Premier Weatherill waxed lyrical in The Advertiser about the Finland waste disposal site, describing it in operation: 

There, spent nuclear fuel is placed in eight metre long iron canisters, encased in copper tubes ... Inside the underground tunnels, the canisters are placed in deep holes. 

Reading this, you would think that is actually happening in Finland. But no — that's just the plan. The facility, in fact, has no nuclear wastes yet disposed of there. In fact, no wastes will be placed there until 2020, at the earliest. 

Weatherill's comments imply that the Finland project and the South Australian plan are pretty much the same kind of thing. Well, apart from some rather obvious differences in climate, which might matter, the whole plan is different. 

South Australia's nuclear waste import plan would need a dump substiantially larger than Finland’s waste dump:

Onkalo (Finland), permanent underground high level Nuclear Waste Dump

  • Capacity 5,000 to 10,000 tonnes high level nuclear waste
  • or 2,500 to 5,000 high level nuclear waste canisters

Proposed SA Nuclear Waste Dump

  • Capacity 138,000 tonnes high level nuclear waste or 69,000 high level nuclear waste canisters
  • Capacity 390,000 m3 intermediate nuclear waste
  • Capacity 81,000 m3 low level nuclear waste
  • Above ground temporary facility capacity 72,000 tonnes high level nuclear waste
  • Above ground temporary facility capacity 175,000 m3 Intermediate nuclear waste

Just for high level nuclear waste alone, it will require a waste dump 14 to 28 times the size of Onkalo (69,000 high level nuclear waste canisters). And for decades, half of the high level nuclear waste will be stored above ground in a temporary facility.

A perhaps even bigger deception is in Weatherill's main theme, praising Finland for its transparency and community consent, since that is a subject of considerable dispute

In fact, Finland's technology for deep disposal of nuclear wastes was developed by the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company (SKB). SKB has for several years been attempting to obtain a licence to start construction in Sweden, but has been denied permission by a land and environmental court ruling.

The reason for the court's denial 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 engineering barrier to prevent the escape of long-lived radionuclides into the surrounding environment.

In 2016, Sweden established the Swedish National Council for Nuclear Waste. This independent body published a 167-page report entitled 'Nuclear Waste State-of-the-Art Report 2016: Risks, uncertainties and future challenges', which detailed considerable risks – environmental, health and economic – with the waste burial technology. 

Sweden has the Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review. It is a coalition comprising five NGOs working with nuclear and radiation safety issues, advising the Government and informing the public. The coalition is financed by the Government’s Swedish Nuclear Waste Fund.  

Finland has no such agency. That might account for the relative ease with which the Finnish nuclear industry gained public acceptance for the plan with no substantial criticism from the public. In Sweden, the nuclear waste burial project has not gone ahead, as there is much debate and opposition from some scientists and from a well-informed public. 

Representatives from municipalities near the Finland repository construction site, Johanna Huhtala and Raija Lehtorinne, explained:

' ... the locals trust the nuclear industry completely.'

I guess that the Finnish model for community consent is more to Weatherill’s liking than the Swedish one. I can’t see him setting up a South Australian NGO office for nuclear waste review.

Read more by Noel Wauchope at antinuclear.net and nuclear-news.net and follow Noel on Twitter @ChristinaMac1.


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