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  • It's an immense project.

  • Since 2005, Finland has been constructing the largest nuclear reactor in Europe alongside

  • a facility that could solve the problem of what to do with spent nuclear fuel.

  • When you think nuclear, the Nordic nation doesn't immediately jump to mind, but if

  • all of its planned projects come to fruition then, by the end of the decade, the country

  • will be second only to France in terms of the percentage of energy drawn from nuclear

  • systems.

  • After more than a decade of delays and cost overruns, 2022 will see the world's happiest

  • country switch on one of the planet's most advanced reactors, potentially kick-starting

  • a new age of nuclear power.

  • Finland actually has a long history with nuclear power. Its first reactor came online in 1977

  • and by 1980, three more were operational providing a third of Finland's total energy needs.

  • While these reactors are among the most efficient in the worldrunning at 95% capacity factor

  • for the past decade and continually being up-rated over their lifecyclegrowing

  • demand and the seasonal fluctuations of other renewable sources like hydro and solar has

  • left the country relying on imports from Russia and Sweden to make up the balance of its energy

  • needs.

  • To lessen its reliance on foreign energy and to help meet its goal of carbon-neutrality

  • by 2035 the Finnish government approved the construction of what was meant to be the world's

  • first third-generation pressurised water reactor (ERP) at its Olkiluoto Nuclear Plant, known

  • as OL3, in 2005.

  • With an initial cost of USD $3.9BN, OL3 was to nearly double the plant's existing output

  • and provide 14% of Finland's energy needs when it became operational by 2010.

  • But while OL3 was the first EPR to begin construction - ahead of other next-generation reactors

  • in France, China and the UK - complexities surrounding the design, defects in safety

  • systems and contractual disputes led to over a decade of delays and in 2018 China's Taishan

  • 1 became the first EPR reactor in the world to start operating.

  • Despite these delays and the cost swelling to over USD $10.25BN, OL3 was granted an operating

  • licence by Finland's Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) in 2019 - and in March

  • 2021, 116 tonnes of uranium began to be loaded into the reactor ahead of its final testing

  • phase.

  • Once it's connected to the grid and the reactor begins commercial production in early

  • 2022, the countdown will be on until OL3 begins adding to Finland's spent fuel stockpile.

  • Nuclear power is an incredibly clean way to produce energy, but it does create a by-product,

  • and it's the one problem we have yet to truly solve.

  • After 3-6 years, irradiated material is no longer able to sustain a reaction as a viable

  • fuel source and new material must be bought in to maintain the reactor's efficiency.

  • But while it's unable to generate electricity, spent fuel remains highly radioactive and

  • needs to be isolated for hundreds of thousands of years to prevent it from causing harm to

  • people or the surrounding environment.

  • Although spent fuel can be re-enriched and re-enter the fuel cycle the main way in

  • which we currently deal with radioactive waste is to simply store it in pools or sealed dry

  • storage facilities while it slowly decays.

  • While these methods keep spent fuel contained, it's not a viable long-term solution as

  • the system is heavily reliant on mechanical and human intervention and even under the

  • strictest conditions, it can be vulnerable to acts of terrorism or natural disasters

  • - the kind that led to the events at Fukushima in 2011.

  • With an estimated 250,000 tonnes of high-level waste already in storage around the world

  • and with no long-term strategy for dealing with it, many countries have chosen to completely

  • rule out nuclear power when it comes to meeting their growing energy needs.

  • In an attempt to solve this, since 2005, Posiva - a joint venture between Finland's two nuclear power

  • providers - has been constructing the world's first deep geological repository for spent

  • fuel in the billion-year-old bedrock not far from OL3.

  • Funded by charges collected from consumers through electricity sales, the USD $1BN project

  • that's due to complete in 2023 will see a series of tunnels extend half a kilometre

  • below ground creating a permanent disposal facility for spent fuel.

  • Now while burying nuclear waste might sound alarming and to cause concern to environmental groups,

  • the process at Onkalo is so much more than simply burying the problem.

  • Based on a Swedish disposal method known as KBS-3, irradiated material is placed into

  • boron steel canisters and enclosed within corrosion-resistant copper capsules before

  • being buried in individual holes and backfilled with bentonite clay - entombing it forever.

  • Once buried, no further mechanical or human intervention is required to contain the radioactive

  • payload, essentially eliminating one of the biggest barriers many countries have when

  • it comes to adopting nuclear power.

  • With the capacity to accommodate the last 50 years' worth of Finland's accumulated

  • spent fuel and the needs of its existing reactors until at least 2120 – at which time the

  • facility will be permanently sealed - Onlako appears to provide a viable long-term solution

  • to dealing with nuclear waste.

  • Described as a “game-changerfor the industry by the Director of the International

  • Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the lessons learned at Onkalo are being shared with other countries

  • and regions with suitable geological characteristics are being considered for similar disposal

  • sites.

  • Having seemingly solved the biggest drawback of nuclear power and with a sixth reactor

  • already planned to begin construction next year, Finland looks set to play a leading

  • role in the widespread adoption of nuclear technology as the world continues to transition

  • away from fossil fuels.

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It's an immense project.

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Finland Might Have Solved Nuclear Power’s Biggest Problem

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    joey joey に公開 2021 年 06 月 12 日
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