On June 20, 2017, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland submitted an application for licence from the Council of State to decommission a research reactor. The FiR 1 research reactor, which for more than 50 years has served as a key nuclear energy and educational research site, ceased operating on 30 June 2015. In the future, the experiences from the project can be applied when planning the decommissioning of the reactors of other Finnish nuclear power plants.
Because the reactor was small in terms of both size and capacity, and operationally safe nuclear facility designed for research and educational use, the amount of spent nuclear fuel, decommissioning waste and the associated radioactivity will be relatively minor. Safety will be an absolute priority during the planning and execution of decommissioning. All the measures related to the decommissioning will be carried out under the supervision of the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority of Finland (STUK).
"FiR 1 is the first nuclear facility decommissioned in Finland, and, when dismantling it, special attention will be paid to radiation protection and zero emissions. The radiation exposure of the general population resulting from the dismantling, transport and storage is so negligible that it is indiscernible from natural background radiation," says Markus Airila, D.Sc. (Tech.), Project Manager at VTT.
The FiR 1 research reactor that the State of Finland purchased from the United States for the use of the Helsinki University of Technology was started up in Otaniemi in 1962. The fission power of this water-cooled, pool-type reactor, which was later used for isotope production and radiation therapy as well, was 250 kW.
Several reactors of a corresponding type have been decommissioned in countries such as Denmark and Germany, and the lessons learned will be applied when the Otaniemi reactor is decommissioned. In turn, experiences from decommissioning the Otaniemi reactor can be applied when planning the decommissioning of Finnish nuclear power plant reactors.
Safety as the focus
In February 2015, VTT received a statement from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment concerning VTT's environmental impact assessment report on the decommissioning and dismantling of the reactor. VTT has carefully determined the remaining radioactivity in the reactor, planned the solutions for the dismantling of the reactor and for nuclear waste management, and commenced negotiations on agreements needed for the implementation of such measures. Now VTT is applying for licence for the actual decommissioning of the reactor in accordance with the Nuclear Energy Act.
VTT will handle the spent nuclear fuel and low and intermediate-level radioactive waste arising from the dismantling of the reactor's structures, amounting to approximately 100 cubic metres. Due to the small size of the facility, normal work procedures are sufficient for limiting the radiation exposure of employees participating in the dismantling and waste management. Their occupational safety will be ensured by means of continuous personal monitoring of radiation exposure.
Negotiations are also under way for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel by sending it back to its country of origin, specifically to Idaho National Laboratory in the USA, where several countries have previously sent similar batches of nuclear fuel from research reactors. The interim storage and final disposal of waste from the reactor structures will be implemented in Finland, in cooperation with Finnish nuclear power companies.
After decommissioning, the cleaned reactor building premises in Otaniemi can be released for other future uses.
Further information on the reactor: