OThe snow has whitewashed the landscape ben, but down here, 437 meters below the surface of the earth, it is warm. It goes through a widely ramified tunnel system. Ventilation pipes on the ceiling, the walls brightly lit. At an intersection, Johanna Hansen gets out of the car and continues on foot, wading through a few puddles over rocky ground until she finally comes into a passage whose stone walls are not plastered. Highly radioactive nuclear waste is soon to be sunk into the ground here. Every ten meters a tube with old but still hot fuel rods in it. More than 30 pieces per tunnel. These are then filled with clay rock and sealed. Forever.
Her work serves to protect the environment, says 51-year-old geologist Hansen. If you produce energy, you also have to take care of the disposal of the waste. Hansen is responsible for research and development in the company operating the repository. On the wall behind her are lines and numbers on the rock face. This is used to create three-dimensional maps at the top of the computer to examine cracks in the rock and find the best place for the nuclear waste containers.
Approval is higher than ever
Since 2016, people have been digging and researching here deep in the ground on the Baltic Sea island of Olkiluoto. A total of around eight kilometers of tunnel have been completed, tests with “dummy fuel rods” are to be carried out from 2024 onwards, and the Onkalo repository is scheduled to go into operation in 2025. Then, at the top of the encapsulation facility, the fuel rods are welded into copper canisters and taken down in an elevator, where remote-controlled vehicles insert them into the holes in the rock. Finland will then be the first country in the world to have a repository for highly radioactive nuclear waste.
The fuel rods from the two Finnish nuclear power plants Olkiluoto (located above the repository) and Loviisa (in the east of Helsinki) are to be stored. The operating company claims to have calculated the risks for thousands of years. Result: all harmless. When all the holes are full, the entire tunnel system will be filled with clay rock.
Unlike in other countries, there is almost no criticism of the repository or of nuclear power as a whole. On the contrary. 83 percent of Finns are in favor of nuclear power or support its expansion. That’s according to a recently released survey commissioned by Energiateollisuus, the Finnish Energy Industry Association, which polled a thousand people. The survey has been collected since 1983. Support for nuclear power has always been high, but never as high as this year. Only eleven percent of respondents are against it.
This has to do with the Russian war of aggression. Russia and Finland share a border that is more than 1,300 kilometers long, and since spring the Finnish population’s desire for the country’s energy independence has grown significantly once again. But it also has to do with attitudes within Finnish society, with trust in institutions. Ministries, authorities and even the media are much more trusted here than in Germany.
Of course, people were actually in favor of getting rid of nuclear power, say many in the country we speak to. But now you just need them for the transition to energy production entirely from renewables. And after all, you take care of the garbage yourself instead of pushing the problem further and further in front of you. Currently, the company operating the repository regularly guides groups from all over the world through the tunnels. The expertise on the subject is to be sold abroad, after all, many countries are currently planning repositories.
More energy imports from Sweden, no more from Russia
Up until the Russian war of aggression, around 30 percent of the energy in Finland came from Russia. Now the percentage is about zero. More energy is imported from Sweden, more biomass (e.g. from the residues of the wood industry) and more wind energy is used. The share of renewables was around 44 percent in 2021. The fact that the share of coal, gas and oil has been drastically reduced over the past ten years has helped with the change.
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