Grappling With Waste...


The underground Onkalo repository in Finland is designed to safely and permanently store hazardous, radioactive waste. Credit: Posiva

Topics: Environment, High Energy Physics, Nuclear Power

Finland and the former Yugoslavia adopted nuclear energy only four years apart. In 1971 Finland began construction of its first nuclear plant, Loviisa, and the first of two planned reactors went into commercial operation in 1977. Yugoslavia started building the Krško plant in 1975. In the 1980s, both countries acknowledged the need for a long-term nuclear waste management strategy and started making plans for permanent disposal repositories.

Fast-forward four decades, and Finland is on the verge of becoming the world’s first country to achieve permanent deep geological disposal for spent nuclear fuel, the highly radioactive waste that contains uranium, plutonium, fission products, and other heavy elements. Meanwhile, the fate of the spent fuel generated at Krško, which is jointly owned by former Yugoslavian republics Croatia and Slovenia, is still very much unknown. Both countries have yet to get a handle on even low-level radioactive waste, including contaminated clothes and water filters, which is slowly overwhelming storage facilities and threatening to halt plant operations.

The US has long struggled to find a final resting place for its nuclear waste, to the point that it is now spending billions of dollars to reimburse plant operators for the costs of storing spent fuel. The dramatically different outcomes of Finland and Croatia’s lengthy searches for permanent nuclear waste solutions are reflections of the varied ways in which this long-standing worldwide problem is being tackled by the nations of the European Union. Whereas Finland, Sweden, and France are expected to open permanent underground spent-fuel repositories by the early 2030s, 12 other nuclear EU countries are far behind, planning to open deep geological disposal facilities sometime between the 2040s and the 2100s. According to a 2019 European Commission report on the implementation of its nuclear waste directive, only a few of those nations have made progress in selecting a site.

European Union nations grapple with nuclear waste storage, Vedrana Simičević, Physics Today.

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