A 100,000-Year Tomb for Finland’s Nuclear Waste via the Wall Street Journal

Other countries have hit political roadblocks in finding a lasting fix to the world’s nuclear-waste problem. Finland, meanwhile, has been quietly breaking ground

OLKILUOTO, Finland—In billion-year-old bedrock, 100 stories below ground, the Finns have found what the whole world is looking for: a place to bury their most dangerous nuclear waste.

From the U.S. to the U.K., Germany and Japan, plans to dig tombs for the highly radioactive fuel rods have hit political roadblocks or faced backlash from locals who don’t want toxic waste in their backyards.

Finland, meanwhile, has been quietly breaking ground.

On this Baltic Sea island off the Finnish coast, the country’s two main nuclear power companies have just begun digging the main chambers of a tunnel system they aim to complete by 2020 to safely house 6,500 tons of spent uranium for the next 100,000 years.


Plans for the U.S.’s Yucca Mountain facility, 90 miles from Las Vegas, for instance were stalled in 2010 by then-Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, who strangled the project’s funding in spending bills. The now-retired Democratic Senate leader called the rods “the most poisonous substance known to man.”

A German scheme to use the country’s Gorleben salt mine as a storage site was derailed after federal politicians in Berlin failed to get local approval behind the project, a political third rail. In Japan, the government spent years asking communities to host sites before giving up and asking scientists to make a shortlist.

And after a county council rejected in 2013 a burial site for highly radioactive waste in Cumbria in northwestern England, the U.K. is starting from scratch canvassing 13 regions of Wales, England and Northern Ireland for volunteers to host a site in what a spokesman for the U.K.’s Radioactive Waste Management office called “a community-led process.”


Meanwhile, the ballooning global stockpile of spent nuclear fuel—266,000 tons of spent uranium fuel were in temporary storage at the end of 2015, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna—risks billions in runaway costs for taxpayers and companies until final waste storage is built.

“The technological solutions are largely in place, which is shown by the Finns,” said Irina Gaus, the director of research and development at Switzerland’s National Cooperative for the Disposal of Radioactive Waste. “Society has to decide how to deal with the waste.”

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