For a billion years the bedrock beneath Olkiluoto Island has remained stable. It has stayed intact for the reign of the dinosaurs, been untroubled by the comet impact that killed them and kept its structure through the rise of the intelligent mammals that followed. No longer. For the first time since complex life arrived, one of those intelligent mammals is disturbing it. Here on the Finnish coast, engineers are drilling a vast catacomb to store nuclear waste, confident that some of the most stable rock in the world will contain it for 100,000 years. It is a stunning feat but what will impress the nuclear authorities in Britain is the political achievement, rather than the engineering one. Because with their deep geological storage programme the Finns have achieved something that has eluded Britain, even though the construction of Hinkley Point C is technically predicated on it. They have solved their nuclear waste problem. A thousand miles away, on another picturesque coast, the situation is rather different. In Cumbria, and further north in Dounreay, entombed in concrete, 60 years of nuclear waste sits decaying, awaiting its eventual fate. Everyone knows what that fate should be, indeed it was a condition of the white paper outlining the building of nuclear plants that a “credible strategy” was in place to deal with the waste. That credible strategy is what is known by some as the Finnish model. On paper it looks good. Councils are offered cash inducements to volunteer themselves as radioactive storage sites, then after a public consultation and a geological survey, the best candidate is offered the privilege of hosting the waste. The problem is a total lack of volunteers. Worse, the only ones that have come even close to volunteering are in Cumbria, where some geologists think the rock is too fractured to take a storage facility safely. Jean McSorley, an environmental consultant in Cumbria, says that this means the government’s nuclear strategy is fatally flawed. “The problem is the wording. They say, ‘We will have a plan’, and that means they can go ahead. This implies that somehow a plan in and of itself means implementation without any hitches. Everybody knows from house extension to massive infrastructure projects, let alone controversial ones, that having a plan can mean nothing,” she says. For now, one thing is clear, the Finnish model on nuclear waste has not yet brought us closer to a UK answer. And even as they begin to bury their waste, in the Lake District, piles of warm radioactive sludge gently continue to decay above ground.
Times 28th Jan 2017 read more »