8 Jul 2017

Chch company to help tackle nuclear waste problem

2:25 pm on 8 July 2017

A New Zealand company is helping in a world-first project to attempt permanent storage of nuclear waste.

Tunnel at Olkiluoto.

Tunnel at Olkiluoto. Photo: Supplied

Finnish company Posiva is building a repository on an island in the southwest of Finland to store spent nuclear fuel. It is expected to take about 100 years to fill it.

Christchurch based company ARANZ Geo's software has been contracted to help out with the project on Olkiluoto island.

The company's Chief Operations Officer Graham Grant said the project's approach to dealing with nuclear waste was not typical.

"Nuclear waste is taken and stored underground deep within bedrock forever.

ARRANZ COO Graham Grant

ARANZ Geo's COO Graham Grant. Photo: Supplied

"Most countries follow a process of what's called retrievability which means they have some sort of storage facility but there is the ability for that material to be taken out in the future if there are changes, or if new risks emerge.

"So this a first in that it is a one-way trip for the waste."

He said nuclear waste was a huge global problem.

"There's now a quarter of a million tonnes of waste in various forms of storage.

"This project is the first to attempt permanent safe storage, so that it's stored forever. They're dealing with storing 1500 tonnes so that gives you the proportionate scale of this project."

He said the software would model the ground around the repository to find potential future fractures of faults.

"ARANZ Geo are developers of software technology that helps companies understand the sub-surface. How the ground operates and what is in the ground.

"They do that by securing a whole range of different sorts of sample data that could be from drilling and geophysics and other sorts of data.

"The algorithms in our software help them build a very complex 3D model of the underground geology. It gives them tremendous transparency about ground conditions."

Tunnel entrance at Olkiluoto

Tunnel entrance at Olkiluoto Photo: Supplied

Posiva will build deep caverns to store the waste from the power plants, Teollisuuden Voima and Fortum Power and Heat.

Nuclear fuel waste will be put in 5m long copper canisters and embedded in the bedrock and away from faults and groundwater.

It will be stored at a depth of 450 to 500m and eventually around 35km of bedrock will contain more than 3000 canisters of nuclear waste.

The project will be closely monitored by Finland's nuclear regulatory authority.

Illustration of Olkiluoto

Illustration of Olkiluoto Photo: Supplied

  • Tunnel collapses at US nuclear waste facility
  • FSM and Marshalls urge nuclear clean-up
  • Outrage over Australian nuclear waste dump
  • Marshalls copper hunters receive radioactive warning