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The glow of Finland's first nuclear reactor faded out


VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd ends the use of the FiR 1 research reactor in Espoo. It has served as a central place of training and research for over 50 years. 

The FiR 1 research reactor that Finland purchased from the United States was started ceremonially in Otaniemi in 1962. The operation of the reactor, originally built for research and education purposes and later modified for isotope production and radiotherapy, is now ending because it has become unprofitable.

The 250 kW TRIGA type reactor has been designed for use in university environments. The amount of spent nuclear fuel in this small reactor is one hundred thousandth compared with a nuclear power plant. The amount of activated constructions is also a fraction compared to those in a nuclear power plant.

In the early days of the reactor the focus of the use was in research of neutron and reactor physics and in training of Finnish experts. Then, neutrons from the reactor were used intensively in chemical element analyses, including soil and lunar soil samples. Finally in the 1990s, the reactor was complemented with radiotherapy equipment using the reactor's neutron radiation modified with technology developed by VTT. Radiotherapy ended in January 2012 when the company that organised it went bankrupt. Since then, there has been only minor use for the reactor.

The possession of the reactor was transferred from Helsinki University of Technology to VTT by government decision in 1971.

In February 2015, VTT got the approval statement from the Ministry of Employment and the Economy for its environmental impact assessment of decommissioning and dismantling of the reactor. VTT aims to apply for government's authorisation in 2016 for decommissioning the reactor. Dismantling of the reactor can be started, when the spent nuclear fuel has been removed from the reactor. The primary scenario for disposal of the nuclear fuel is to send it back to its country of origin, specifically to Idaho National Laboratory in the USA where similar batches of nuclear fuel from research reactors have previously been sent from several countries.

The reactor will be stopped first to its normal summer shutdown. The security surveillance of the reactor and premises continues at the same level as during normal use.

The interim storage and disposal of low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste from the dismantling of the reactor structures will be carried out in cooperation with nuclear power companies in Finland.

No nuclear reactors have been decommissioned in Finland before. By contrast, several reactors of corresponding type have been decommissioned for instance in Denmark and Germany, and experiences from those projects will be drawn on in the decommissioning of the Otaniemi reactor. Analogously, experiences from this work can be drawn on in preparing for future decommissioning the reactors in Finnish nuclear power plants.