Around 266,000 tons of spent uranium fuel is currently being stored around the globe in short-term facilities. For the most part, countries with a nuclear industry have failed to come up with a long-term solution for storing nuclear waste that’s won approval from politicians and residents alike.
At least, that’s the case everywhere except Finland.
According to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, the Finns have an answer: a giant tomb 100 stories below ground in bedrock that’s a billion years old.
The waste repository was commissioned in 1992, but digging into the main chambers of the tomb, located off the Finnish coast on Olkiluoto Island, began recently. Developers are aiming to finish it by 2020. The tomb will be designed to safely contain 6,500 tons of spent uranium for the next 100,000 years, which is how long it will be highly radioactive.
The idea of stashing radioactive material deep in the earth isn’t new. In fact, engineers have long agreed that it’s the best option for keeping the dangerous material contained.
What has made the project more remarkable is the way that residents have embraced it.
In the U.S., the government is still searching for a long-term home for our nuclear waste. A proposed location in the Yucca Mountains of Nevada, has for now, been effectively derailed by funding cuts made by politicians like Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) — the project’s biggest opponent. (Although recent reports indicate that the Trump Administration could attempt to revive the project).
Germany and Japan have also failed to win over opponents who worried about the risks and costs of massive storage projects.
In Finland, however, the government found a fix: It offered major property taxes for whatever municipality would host the storage site. So far, the municipality that won the project has rakes in $17.2 million in taxes from the nuclear industry each year. The money has helped fund a new library, senior home, two day-care centers, sports facilities, school renovations and more. Unsurprisingly, the percentage of residents who thought nuclear fuel rods can’t be stored safely dropped from 60 percent in 1984 (when plans for the site began) to 34 percent in 2008.
Finns in the industry say that local approval for the site wasn’t just about financial incentives though — residents in the country also have a higher level of trust in industry experts.