The FiR 1 research reactor, which has served as a key nuclear energy and educational research facility for 50 years, was shut down permanently on 30 June 2015. VTT applied for a decommissioning licence from the Council of State in 2017.
The FiR 1 research reactor that Finland purchased from the United States was started up ceremonially in Otaniemi in 1962. Originally intended for use in research and education, this water-cooled, pool-type TRIGA reactor specifically designed for university environments also served in isotope production and radiation therapy. The reactor's fission power was at the low level of 250 kW and it was limited to daytime operation, with no use being made of its heat energy.
Responsibility for the reactor was transferred to VTT from Helsinki University of Technology by a Government decision in 1971.
In the early days, the reactor was mainly used for neutron and reactor physics research and national education. At a later stage, intensive use was made of its radiation for chemical element analyses, including soil and lunar soil samples. In the 1990s, the reactor was complemented with radiotherapy equipment based on the reactor's neutron radiation, modified for patient care using moderator material technology developed by VTT. Radiotherapy ended in January 2012, when the company organising it went bankrupt – only minor use has been made of the reactor since then.
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 submitted in 2017 an application for permission from the Council of State to decommission the reactor.
Because the reactor is a small, operationally safe nuclear facility designed for educational use, the amounts of spent fuel, decommissioning waste and the associated radioactivity will be relatively minor. Safety will be an absolute priority during the planning and execution of the plant's decommissioning. All measures related to the decommissioning will be carried out under the supervision of the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority of Finland (STUK).
VTT will separately handle the spent nuclear fuel and low and intermediate-level radioactive waste arising from the dismantling of the reactor's structures. The primary scenario for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel is to send 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. In spring 2019, VTT launched a negotiated procedure, according to the act on public procurement, on dismantling the reactor and receiving the low and intermediate level decommissioning waste (necessary interim storage and later the final disposal). VTT aims at signing an agreement in February 2020.
No nuclear reactors have been decommissioned in Finland before. By contrast, 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 plants.
Starting from spring 2018, VTT is coordinating a project on creating a business ecosystem on nuclear decommissioning. The project is co-funded by Business Finland.
The aim of the project is to form a business ecosystem in this industrial sector, in which the companies operating together identify development opportunities and challenges, and launch development projects. One of these challenges has been the recognition of companies outside the industry as supplier of products and services for nuclear decommissioning projects.
We are discussing the possibilities for cooperation between Finnish actors, and offer the interested companies the opportunity for further bilateral preparations.
The first workshop took place on 22nd of May, 2018 – see our press-release about it (In Finnish)
FIR 1 timeline
- 1962: Helsinki University of Technology commissions a Triga Mark II research reactor, which is named FiR 1.
- 1967: The maximum thermal power is raised to 250 kW following tests and modifications.
- 1971: The research reactor operational responsibility is moved from Helsinki University of Technology to VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.
- 1999: The reactor is used for the first time to provide cancer treatment in collaboration with the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa.
- 2012: The cancer treatment provider goes out of business.
- 2015: The reactor is run for the last time on 30 June 2015.
- 2019: The spent nuclear fuel is transported to the US or interim storage.
- 2021: The reactor is dismantled, and the resulting waste placed in interim storage.
- 2022: The empty reactor building is decontaminated and released.
- 2030’s: The waste is transported from the interim storage facility to a final repository.
* A possible delay in repatriation of the spent nuclear fuel would also delay dismantling of the reactor.